Food in film will always have its place. Either as tetchy and stressful environments of passionate dispositions as shown in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover or as relaxed and enticing places of wonder like in Ratatouille. The latter does depend on its Parisian surroundings more than anything else for that effect. The kitchen is still a stressful and vilified location to spend any amount of time in. Big Night suffers the same point of view. Italian restaurant rivalries and the odd sub-genre that soon came of them is an avenue worth getting lost down, for it means watching films like Big Night.
Tensions and dishes bubble over in Big Night, a film set on featuring the iconography of the 1950s with some of the biggest names of the 1990s. A unique ensemble paves the way to disastrous dining experiences. Not just for those sitting in the typically Italian eating place, but for those cracking through dish after dish in the kitchen. Slightly comical moments are found throughout and they bring a great deal of life to the film. The sink that does not seem to work, the chatter between chefs that feels ever so slightly aimless and the stress of a banquet honouring Louis Prima offer up some excellent moments. It would not work if it were not for the chemistry of Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub. Tucci takes his spot behind the camera for this feature, and it shows.
He has little time to hide his contempt for the average American diner. They do not understand risotto, coat everything in cheese and squabble over the smallest of issues. Hilarity inevitably ensues. It is the cutting dialogue and the fast-paced nature of it that works so tremendously for Big Night. Money troubles, longstanding issues between brothers and guests alike, all of it is happening behind the scenes and before the cameras start rolling yet they feel strong and pertinent throughout. Big Night benefits from having those moments take place off-camera. Tucci and Shalhoub sell them extremely well. One is a womaniser; the other is a workaholic in the throes of an artistic mid-life crisis. Both are displayed so well and so prominently. They are toiling away as the banks and loan sharks close in, the stresses of running a restaurant not enough to fend off the pain of dealing with customers.
Tucci and Campbell Scott capture the highs and lows of the restaurateur lifestyle so well. They are the hard workers trapped in a kitchen without utensils, a dining room without customers and a bank that hopes for their head if they cannot provide some cash, quick. Big Night is a delightful film. The leads are likeable, the stereotypical customers that provide scenes of brevity and humour can easily be linked to personal dining room experiences. Dreaded displays of unwavering loyalty in the kitchen prove a few notes of Anthony Bourdain true, but most of all are the sacrifices that must be made to appease the money pig customers who filter in and out. The capturing of big events in the hope of securing another month’s rent. That is the beauty of Big Night, because every night is a big one for these leading men.