Big Night (1996)
February 20, 2018 8:27 PM - Subscribe

A failing Italian restaurant run by two brothers gambles on one special night to try to save the business.

Chicago Tribune: To say that "Big Night" is a heartfelt yarn, set in the 1950s, about two immigrant brothers who open up an Italian restaurant in New Jersey with the hopes of attaining the American Dream is like saying "Casablanca" is about an American expatriate who runs a cafe-bar called Rick's in North Africa during World War II.

Such a description doesn't begin to address just how thick and rich this story really is. Because when all is said and done -- the courses prepared, the meal served, the dishes washed and put away -- "Big Night" is first and foremost a colorful portrait of the artist as a young chef.

Rolling Stone: Plot takes a back seat to atmosphere in this pungent meditation on art and business. The whole movie is a family affair. Tucci (Richard Cross on TV's "Murder One") wrote the script with his cousin Joseph Tropiano, drawing on their family roots in Italy. And Tucci co-directed with childhood pal Campbell Scott, who plays the small role of a salesman. Shalhoub (TV's "Wings"), another friend, joins Tucci in an unforgettable acting duet that is as richly authentic as the food, including timpano, a mouthwatering special dish. In the final scene, done in silence, the brothers make and share a simple omelet in a moment of reconciliation that subtly pierces the heart.

AV Club: As much as anything, Big Night romanticizes that period mid-century where expectations of conformity hadn’t yet given way to the open indulgences of the ’60s. It’s mesmerizing to watch Stanley Tucci and friends leverage that cultural conservatism, using Italian food and the struggles of running a restaurant to work through a concise metaphor for art vs. commerce, the responsibility we have toward family, and the way hope and ambition can blind us to reality

NYTimes: There's much more to "Big Night" than culinary ecstasy, although the film makers surely deliver that. (By the end of Primo's incredible meal, all the diners look weak with happiness, except for the one woman who sobs, "My mother was such a terrible cook!") What's most affecting here, beyond the vast charm of the two main characters, is the film's absolute faith in artistry and independence in a world that may not necessarily respect either one. The beauty of "Big Night" is that it can express all this in a wordless, eloquent coda devoted to nothing more monumental than cooking and eating eggs.

Roger Ebert: The movie works smoothly and deeply to achieve its effects, which have to do with more than this night or this feast. The surprises in the plot involve not only secret romance but heartbreak and long-held frustration, for if genius is great, it is nevertheless not easy to be genius' brother. By the end of the movie, we have been through an emotional and a sensual wringer, in a film of great wisdom and delight.


How Stanley Tucci's Big Night helped kick off an American dining revolution

What Big Night taught a professional chef about commerce and art

posted by MoonOrb (15 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
The ending scene is perfect.

Allison Janney has a small role in this film. It was the first time I had seen her in anything, and I remember thinking who is that!? and then being very excited when I recognized her in The West Wing a few years later.
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:20 PM on February 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

Some friends always talked about having a watching party with several courses of food but it never materialized. Maybe that's the best tribute to the film after all!
posted by mrcrow at 9:46 PM on February 20, 2018

Some friends always talked about having a watching party with several courses of food but it never materialized. Maybe that's the best tribute to the film after all!

Too soon! When Big Night came to the local arthouse theater a restaurant across the street did a Big Night menu with a dinner and a movie promotion and it was tremendous.

MoonOrb, this and Eat Drink Man Woman (Shan Shan's school lunch) have some of my favorite movie feast scenes. Also the scene in the 1973 Michael York, Three Musketeers movie where they feign a brawl in order to steal victuals.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:32 PM on February 20, 2018

This is my favorite food movie ever. If you liked this you should check out the video by Binging with Babish where he cooks the timpano.
posted by Idle Curiosity at 1:47 AM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'll just re-quote a comment that I made on a recent FPP about food movies:
I saw Big Night when it appeared in the theaters just as I was graduating from college. I had moved into an apartment with three other young twentysomethings, and we developed a reputation for hosting huge, crazy, all night, open-to-everyone house parties. I have had more than one 5am moment where I'm walking over bodies passed out and intertwined on our living room floor, then going into the kitchen to pull out a carton of eggs. I'd scramble all of the eggs into a bowl, stir fry some leftover rice in garlic, make coffee. Then when the pan of scrambled eggs was done, I'd just start serving it up on to paper plates and whoever was left in the party would just help themselves to breakfast and then it'd be 6am. The buses are running again. Go home. Every time I did that, it's the omelette scene in Big Night running in the back of my mind.
posted by bl1nk at 4:34 AM on February 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

One of my top ten favorites! I've always wanted to make the timpano, but I'm scared because I've never made my own pasta and have only just conquered pie crusts. People always talk about how this film makes them want to eat, and that is true. But as an ex-smoker, this film makes me want to smoke just as much.

I think the relationships in Big Night are convincing. Primo and Secondo behave like brothers in the restaurant throughout the film, and especially on the beach at the end. Primo's crush on Janney's character is funny and awkward and heartwarming. Secondo's relationships are all a little bit sad, because he seems to want to please everyone, and his desperation comes across to us constantly, yet he can't or won't keep his promises to anyone. And Pascal gets to be the way he is with everyone he knows because he can afford to.

The film does a good job of establishing the stakes from the beginning.* You see Primo's rage at having to compromise his art every day, and Secondo's dual struggle of making the restaurant work and making his brother work. I feel both characters' frustrations right away in that opening scene. It's really good exposition and good character writing. Yet as I recall, they save the clear mention of having emigrated, and what will happen to them personally if the restaurant fails, until the very end, when your heart is already in your throat.

(That NYTimes review mentioned Denise Calls Up, which I haven't seen since the 90's, but damn was that movie ahead of its time.)

*I just reminded myself of how much I enjoy Holm's reading of the line about steak. "A guy works all day, he don't want to look at his plate and ask, "What the fuck is this?" He wants to look at his plate, see a steak, and say "I like steak!"
posted by heatvision at 4:40 AM on February 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I love to cook, I love Stanley Tucci, and I love Tony Shalhoub. So, yeah, kinda a fan.

The height of this movie for me is the final scene, and I don't think I'm alone in that. Secondo, the inferior cook, makes the food. And then in walks Primo, and without a word or a question or a look, Secondo simply sets up a plate up for his brother, right next to him. And they eat, side-by-side, all of the craziness and stress and yelling and hurting of the past 24 hours now just water under the bridge of this complex, loving, deep, unbroken family relationship. Finally, Secondo (with some hesitation!) places an arm around his brother and then Primo (with some hesitation!) returns the gesture.

I don't know how you say "love heals" any better than that -- and all without a word of dialog. Magnificent.
posted by Frayed Knot at 6:59 AM on February 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

I love this and The Imposters. I didn't realize Tucci had written and directed two films after them, and will have to watch the other films.
posted by maxsparber at 7:17 AM on February 21, 2018

Yep, another food film that I love.

I swear I stumbled upon an episode of Roseanne once that completely ripped off Big Night's "silent breakfast prep as a sign that love endures after a huge fight" ending. Anybody else remember that?
posted by Naberius at 9:11 AM on February 21, 2018

And then in walks Primo, and without a word or a question or a look, Secondo simply sets up a plate up for his brother, right next to him. And they eat, side-by-side, all of the craziness and stress and yelling and hurting of the past 24 hours now just water under the bridge of this complex, loving, deep, unbroken family relationship. Finally, Secondo (with some hesitation!) places an arm around his brother and then Primo (with some hesitation!) returns the gesture.

Don't forget how Cristiano is there in the kitchen first (having slept on the kitchen island) but then, seeing Primo come in and take a seat, quietly slips out to give the brothers a private moment.

the timpano
People always talk about how this film makes them want to eat

Oddly enough, the timpano and the feast scene don't make me as hungry as the eggs scene. The eggs scene always brings on an INSTANT CRAVING. Number 2 for me is perhaps the risotto assortment.

What I enjoyed the most about the timpano were the montage of making the pasta components together and the scene where they unmold the cooked timpano and, as though handling a mutant creature, contemplate and gingerly tap the thing.
posted by Sockin'inthefreeworld at 2:55 PM on February 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Has anyone here ever had timpano? Does it live up to the hype in the movie?
posted by trig at 8:08 AM on February 22, 2018

Never heard of this movie until this post, just watched it based on the comments. It was cute but not the charmer that I was expecting. I wish there were many more food scenes, the food parts were very good. The decor and the clothes and the music were good. The dinner party scene was really really wonderful. I found the end scene cute but two things really stuck out - how Marc Anthony never stopped fidgeting for one second while eating the eggs, it was like he was trying to pull focus by constantly moving (and it worked, at least for me). And the fact that Secundo made 3 eggs, and doled out one egg to each person. Did people really only eat one egg in the 50s? It seemed so ungenerous somehow.

I too need to try timpano. Anything with ziti and a good marinara sauce, I'm there.
posted by the webmistress at 7:28 AM on February 24, 2018

I have made timpano quite a few times.
It is definitely an event kind of dish. I made it once before a buddy was shipped off to Iraq.
It isn't difficult to make (even the crust, don't be put off by that step). It's just a dish that requires a bunch of prep steps (cook the pasta, make the sauce, cook and slice the eggs, slice the meats and cheeses, make the crust, assemble all of the ingredients with an eye to presentation of the slice, bake it in time to have it hot but still cool enough to set for the slicing).
I highly suggest making it for a dinner party at least once. Even better if everyone has seen the movie.
posted by Seamus at 2:56 PM on May 11, 2018

Because I want you to make it, I dug up the recipe.
(I also want to make it now. Shhhhhh.)

Timpano Alla Big Night
From "Cucina & Famiglia" (William Morrow)
By Joan Tropiano Tucci and Gianni Scappin
16 servings

For the dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup water
To prepare the pan:

Olive oil

For the filling:
2 cups 1/4 x 1/2-inch Genoa salami pieces
2 cups 1/4 x 1/2-inch sharp provolone cheese cubes
12 hard boiled eggs, shelled, quartered lengthwise, and each quarter cut in half to create chunks
2 cups meatballs
8 cups meat-based tomato sauce
3 pounds ziti pasta, cooked very al dente (about half the regular cooking time)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup finely grated pecorino Romano cheese
4 large eggs, beaten

To make the dough, place the flour, eggs, salt and olive oil in a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add 3 tablespoons of water and process. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together and forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead to make sure it is well mixed. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes.

Flatten the dough out on a lightly floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour and roll it out, dusting with flour and flipping the dough over from time to time, until it is about 1/16 inch thick and is the desired diameter.

Generously grease the timpano baking pan (a 6-quart bowl) with butter and olive oil. Fold the dough in half and then in half again, to form a triangle, and place it in the pan. Open the dough and arrange it in the pan, gently pressing it against the bottom and the sides, draping the extra dough over the sides. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

To prepare the filling, have the salami, provolone, hard-boiled eggs, meatballs, and ragu at room
temperature. Toss the drained pasta with the olive oil and 2 cups of the ragu. Distribute 6 generous cups of the pasta on the bottom of the timpano. Top with 1 cup of the salami, 1 cup of the provolone, 6 of the hard-boiled eggs, 1 cup of the meatballs, and 1/3 cup of the Romano cheese. Pour 2 cups of the ragu over these ingredients. Top with 6 cups of the remaining
pasta. Top that with the remaining 1 cup salami, 1 cup provolone, 6 hard-boiled eggs, 1 cup meatballs, and 1/3 cup Romano cheese. Pour 2 cups of the ragu over these ingredients. Top with the remaining 6 cups pasta. (the ingredients should now be about 1 inch below the rim of the pot.) Spoon the remaining 2 cups of ragu over the pasta. Pour the beaten eggs over the
filling. "Fold the pasta dough over the filling to seal completely. Trim away and discard any double layers of dough.

Bake until lightly browned, about 1 hour. Then cover with aluminum foil and continue baking until the timpano is cooked through and the dough is golden brown (the internal temperature will be 120 degrees F), about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 30 minutes or more. The baked timpano should not adhere to the pan. If any part is still attached, carefully detach with a knife. Grasp the pan firmly and invert the timpano onto a serving platter. Remove the pan and allow the timpano to cool for 20 minutes. Using a long, sharp knife cut a circle about 3 inches in diameter in the center of the timpano, making sure to cut all the way through to the bottom. Then slice the timpano as you would a pie into individual portions, leaving the center circle as a support for the remaining pieces.
posted by Seamus at 3:36 PM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

This movie is a time capsule for me because I lived in Denver for exactly four months in late 1996 and saw this movie in a theater there.

The last scene actually made me weep it was so beautiful. The Coloradans in the theater were not similarly moved, but whatever they were wrong and I was right.
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:54 AM on July 20, 2020

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