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Film / Big Night

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Primo: People should come just for the food.
Secondo: I know that, I know! (Beat) But they don't.

Big Night is a 1996 indie comedy-drama film directed by Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott, with an ensemble cast including Tucci, Minnie Driver, Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini, and Tony Shalhoub.

In 1950s New Jersey, immigrant brothers Primo (Shalhoub) and Secondo (Tucci) own a small Italian restaurant, but locals prefer the blander fare offered by their competitor Pascal (Holm). Closure seems certain, so the brothers decide to host one last "big night," providing free food (and a celebrity appearance in the form of King of the Swingers himself, Louis Prima) in the hopes of raising their profile and saving the business.

Not to be confused with the 1951 Film Noir The Big Night.

This film provides examples of:

  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Since Pascal is Italian, his name would more likely be "Pasquale," which is the Italian variation of the Francophone name "Pascal." Your Mileage May Vary on this being a subtle in-universe indication of the character's willingness to "Americanise."
  • Berserk Button: Don't ask Primo to "Americanise" his food. Just don't. When a customer asks for a side dish of spaghetti and meatballs, he goes berserk for two reasons: 1) Two starchy dishes? 2) Never put meatballs on spaghetti!
  • Bittersweet Ending: The brothers make up after their quarrel, but will almost certainly be going back home.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Primo, Secondo, and Gabriella have a tendency to switch back-and-forth between English and Italian mid-conversation.
  • Food Porn: Especially the timpano (pictured above). Roger Ebert put the film on par with Like Water for Chocolate, Babette's Feast and Tampopo.
  • The Ghost: Louis Prima.
  • Gratuitous Italian: Primo and Secondo tend to slip into their native tongue when they get particularly emotional or passionate.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Primo. Also Pascal.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: As Pascal explains, Primo's insistence at offering only the best Italian food, rather than more American friendly items is not financially viable. Once they have more customers, then they can serve what they like.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Primo doesn't suffer fools gladly, and he's abrasive towards customers and rivals like Pascal who don't measure up to his standards of food. However, he's courteous and patient with Cristiano and Phyllis when they help out in the kitchen, he's very nice towards Ann (even if he Cannot Spit It Out), and as the big night goes on, he even gets involved in playing games with everyone.
  • Large Ham: Pascal, oh so much.
  • Meaningful Background Event: As the brothers fight on the beach, Christiano is seen storming away. Though he has no lines in the film, his reverence for his bosses has been clear from the start, and it's clear he doesn't want to see them at their lowest moment.
  • Mood Whiplash: Everyone is having a great time at the "big night" until, all of a sudden, Pascal slams his hands on the table, and everyone looks terrified. He then goes up to Primo and yells at him, "God damn it, I should kill you! This is so fucking good, I should kill you!" Everyone immediately relaxes and laughs.
  • The Napoleon: Pascal. Fitting, as Ian Holm had played the man himself in Time Bandits.
  • Nothing Personal: Secondo thinks Pascal tricked the brothers because of his affair with Gabriella. Pascal calmly denies this, explaining it was strictly business, and that he wanted to get them to work for him.
  • The Oner: Several memorable ones, including the final, almost dialogue-free shot, in which Secondo makes and serves an omelette for himself, Primo, and Cristiano.
  • The Quiet One: Cristiano the waiter, who manages to act as something of a rock to both brothers despite having few lines.
  • Sarcasm Mode: Primo suggesting that instead of risotto, they serve hot dogs.
  • Serious Business: Food, especially to Primo.
  • Shipper on Deck: Secondo to Primo and Ann, to the point where, when Primo can't bring himself to ask Ann to come to the "big night," Secondo makes a point of asking her.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Pascal. A fan of the Cluster F-Bomb.
  • Technician vs. Performer: Primo vs Pascal.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Phyllis before the main course is served at the "big night."