Saturday, February 19, 2011

A change of plans...and our 'Big Night'

I had intended to bake, photograph and post my first recipe today, but woke to find that Matt had eaten one of the key ingredients - a bag of Fuji apples.  I guess I can't fault him for being healthy! Since we're not due to go shopping for a few days (I try to avoid making trips to the store for only one or two items), I'll save the recipe for later and, instead, tell you about our 'Big Night'.

A few months ago, someone recommended the movie 'Big Night' as a must-see food movie and so, a few nights ago, we watched it.
 For those unfamiliar with this film, it's essentially about two brothers from Italy struggling to make ends meet in the Italian restaurant they've opened in late-1950s America.  Primo (played by Tony Shalhoub) is the uncompromising and genius chef whose meticulously authentic dishes don't seem to translate to the American palate.  Secondo (Stanley Tucci) is the hard-working, smooth-talking front-man who tries to shield his older brother from their economic plight.  After discovering that they are nearly down to their last dime, Secondo winds up on the doorstep of Pascal's - an enormously successful rival restaurant.  Together, he and the shrewd owner, Pascal (played, surprisingly, by Ian Holm), come up with a solution - he'll throw them a celebrity client, and the press that follows, for one night.  The rest of the movie follows the brothers' preparations as they create the meal of a lifetime, a culinary masterpiece, for their big night.

First off, I have to say that the food scenes were lovely.  I really caught the spark of Primo's passion for his cooking and even held my breath during the scene when the timpano was unveiled.  I smiled at the realism of the brothers' argument over pandering to American tastes and loved the simplicity of the eggs-and-bread scene that closed the movie.  As one of the more prominent 'characters' in this film, the food doesn't disappoint.

As for the other characters, the performances of both Tucci and Shalhoub were spot-on; particularly Shalhoub's rendering of the brilliant but humble gastronomic genius whose artistic integrity won't let him produce anything less than his best.  I was pleasantly surprised by Ian Holm's Italian transformation and even liked Minnie Driver as Secondo's earnest American girlfriend (a foreshadowing of her role in 2000's Return to Me, perhaps?).  But for all the simplicity and honesty of the movie, something didn't work for me.  Perhaps I wasn't expecting a wholly character-driven piece.  There isn't much of a storyline to speak of, and even though you find yourself invested in the characters, something about the movie seems a little too slow and predictable.

The film is very well-produced and you can definitely tell how much care the directors, Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott, took with each and every moment.  Perhaps that's part of the problem - it's beautiful, artistic and respectful but somehow a little heavy and overthought for a film with such elemental themes.  If you're looking for an homage to great food, the complexity of human relationships and the bittersweet promise of dreams, this is a good choice.  Just don't expect a conclusive ending and a compelling storyline and be prepared to enjoy the character dynamics and some fabulous food.

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