Big Night is so much more than just a great foodie movie. Food in this movie is not just a storyline component but a language – a language that can create, seduce and inspire perfection.
This film is symbolic of:
- Cultural pride
- Passion and hard work
Based around the 1950s, the storyline symbolises realism, – where you can possess the greatest gifts, and sell the most mouthwatering food, yet still go broke. It takes us on a journey of two brothers who have emigrated from Italy to America to open their own Italian restaurant called Paradise.
The older brother Primo is a magnificent but perfectionist chef who is set in his ways. He believes by ‘Americanising’ the menu to suit the new environment it would cause him to lose his heritage. He despises people who expect spaghetti with meatballs when he can offer them the perfect risotto.
Younger brother Secondo knows his brother is highly skilled but also knows the financial situation of the restaurant. He is a man empowered by their new life in America and the possibilities it may bring.
We see Primo labouring all day to present the perfect seafood risotto, but the customer finds no pieces of prawn or scallop. She complains that she has waited so long for this small dish of rice. When she asks for a side order of spaghetti she’s astounded that it doesn’t come with meatballs.
Not surprisingly, Paradise is at the edge of the bank foreclosing. Very few customers are wanting the real authentic Italian experience.
Secondo seeks help from a highly successful Italian restaurateur across the street, Pascal. His claim to fame is serving spaghetti with meatballs and flambe dishes. His success has come about from his ‘Americanising’ his restaurant. Although Pascal believes a working man should be able to look at his plate and appreciate the steak, not ask what the meal is, Primo feels he should be thrown away in jail for serving this type of food.
Pascal will not lend him money as he wishes for the brothers to work for him, but he will provide a favour by way of having his Italian-American singer friend Louis Prima visit their restaurant. He agrees to arrange for the singer and his band to visit, and organises a reporter to review visit in the papers. Pascal tells him that the newspaper promotion and word of mouth will cause their business to pick up and their restaurant to become popular. This is actually a set up to see the brothers fail.
Secondo feels as a struggling businessman that he cannot commit to his girlfriend Phyllis, yet carries on an affair with Pascal’s partner, Gabriella.
In the kitchen, we often find both Primo and Secondo engrossed in the food preparation and cooking – cooking with passion and pride. This signifies how devoted they are to their culture and restaurant.
Good friendships are within the small Italian immigrated community. We meet the baker, a priest, the florist Ann ( who Primo is very fond of) and Alberto, the barber – Primo’s confidant.
Primo and Secondo devotedly prepare for the ‘big night’, spending all their savings on the right food and wine. All of their culinary skill and expertise is used to ensure the meal is magnificent and cooked to perfection.
Primo, being very shy, is hesitant to ask Ann to the special dinner. To appease his brother, Secondo requests she be there. Although Primo is shocked to see her there, we later see him affectionately feeding her lasagna and telling her, “to eat good food is to be close to God”. This is a special moment where Primo introduces Ann to his culture.
The film ends with the special dinner in honour of Louis Prima, who fails to show up. We see scrumptious dishes being served, one after the other. We see frivolity, singing, drinking and dancing; everyone enjoying the celebration. One particular mouthwatering moment we are presented with is the perfect Timpano, a rare Italian delicacy presented as the piece de resistance. When all of the courses are unveiled, we see the guests go into a type of food coma. One woman is found crying saying, “My mother was such a terrible cook’. This particular shot in Big Night expresses the feelings and emotions of all of the guests without a word being said.
Phyllis finds Secondo kissing Gabriella in the bathroom and runs off to swim in the ocean with Secondo hot on her heals. We see their final argument. Back at the restaurant, Gabriella insists Pascal tell Primo that Louis Prima had never even been invited. We see Primo and Secondo having an argument where for once the full truth is laid out on the table and we see Pascal admitting to Secondo that he set the brothers up
At the break of dawn, we see Secondo silently cooking the perfect omelette. Any cooking teacher will point out that this is the easiest thing to do yet the most difficult. Dividing the omelette into three for himself, the waiter and Primo, a truce is drawn.
Food speaks languages. Big Night is an expression of our passion for food and life. This movie shows us what the two siblings knew all along – that food, and love, are unspoken universal languages known by all.