Big Night Review

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In '50s New Jersey two Italian-American brothers struggle to keep their restaurant afloat.


Mamma mia, this is a tasty delight, a captivating, bittersweet culinary comedy drama of brotherhood and the American dream.

Primo (Shalhoub) and Secondo (Tucci) Pilaggi are hopeful Italian immigrant brothers struggling to make a go of their little restaurant, The Paradise, in 1950s New Jersey. Primo is a master chef, a culinary artist who lives by the creed "To eat good food is to be close to God". His younger sibling Secondo, who yearns for success and its trappings - a flash car and fancy women being priorities - is the matre d' and business brain exasperated by his brother's refusal to pander to the locals' lowbrow preferences for spaghetti and meatballs or steak and fries. Across the street, rival Pascal (Ian Holm) is prospering by what the outraged Primo denounces as "the rape of cuisine".

In a last ditch bid to publicise their fare, Secondo persuades Primo to prepare a sumptuous banquet for singing star Louis Prima and his band. It is to be quite a night, one the community will remember for the romantic complications, alarming revelations and furious confrontations served up between the antipasto and the dolci.

Written by Tucci (the unforgettable Prince Of Darkness, Richard Cross, in Murder One) and his cousin Joseph Tropiano, this is a richly detailed picture of the fraternal relationship, coloured by their emotionality, contrasting ambitions and ethnicity. Tucci and his actor buddy Campbell Scott, who also appears as a Cadillac salesman, have with panache evoked the Italian-American neighbourhood and the period while orchestrating superb ensemble playing. Shalhoub is just beautiful, slinging skillets and wistfully eyeing the spinster florist down the street. He and Tucci's dapper wannabe, out of his depth in his efforts to assimilate and conquer, present authentic Italian-Americans with subtlety and real humour, without toppling over into exaggeration and cliche. But everyone is just right, from Holm, the knowing Rossellini to the Paradise's quiet young waiter (Marc Anthony). Collectively they dish up beautifully observed vignettes of blood ties, conflicting desires, and how to make an omelette.

Charming, funny, poignant and mouth-watering, this is most wisely seen well fed beforehand or you'll be drooling.