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Big Night

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Big Night
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Written by
  • Joseph Tropiano
  • Stanley Tucci
Produced by
CinematographyKen Kelsch
Edited bySuzy Elmiger
Music byGary DeMichele
Distributed byThe Samuel Goldwyn Company
Release dates
  • January 24, 1996 (1996-01-24) (Sundance)
  • September 20, 1996 (1996-09-20) (United States)
Running time
107 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$4.1 million[1]
Box office$14.2 million[2]

Big Night is a 1996 American comedy-drama film co-directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci.[3] Set in the 1950s on the Jersey Shore, the film follows two Italian immigrant brothers, played by Tucci and Tony Shaloub, as they host an evening of free food at their restaurant in an effort to allow it to gain greater exposure. The film's supporting cast includes Minnie Driver, Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini, and Allison Janney.[3]

Produced by David Kirkpatrick and Jonathan Filley for the Samuel Goldwyn Company, Big Night was met with largely positive reviews and grossed $14 million worldwide. It was nominated for the "Grand Jury Prize" at the Sundance Film Festival and the "Grand Special Prize" at the Deauville Film Festival. Scott and Tucci won the New York Film Critics Circle Award and the Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best New Director. Tucci and Joseph Tropiano won the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay.


On the Jersey Shore in the 1950s, two Italian immigrant brothers from Calabria own and operate a restaurant called "Paradise". One brother, Primo, is a brilliant, perfectionist chef who chafes under their few customers' expectations of "Americanized" Italian food. Their uncle's offer for them to return to Rome to help with his restaurant is growing in appeal to Primo.

The younger brother, Secondo, is the restaurant manager, a man enamoured of the possibilities presented by their new endeavor and life in America. Despite Secondo's efforts and Primo's magnificent food, their restaurant is failing to gain success and recognition.

Secondo's struggles as a businessman render him unable to commit to his girlfriend Phyllis, and he has recently been sleeping with Gabriella, the wife of a competitor. Her husband's eponymous restaurant, "Pascal's", has succeeded despite (or perhaps due to) the mediocre, uninspired food served there.

Desperate to keep Paradise afloat, Secondo asks Pascal for a loan. Pascal demurs, repeating a past offer for the brothers to work for him, which Secondo refuses: he and his brother want their own restaurant. In a seemingly generous gesture, Pascal insists that he will persuade popular Italian-American singer Louis Prima to dine at Paradise when in town, assuming the celebrity jazz singer's patronage will revitalize the brothers' business.

Primo and Secondo dive into the preparations for this "big night", spending their entire savings on food, drinks and decoration, inviting numerous people (including a newspaper reporter and Primo's love interest) to join them for a magnificent feast showcasing a timpano (a complex baked pasta dish). Primo pours his heart into every dish, lavishing care and great expertise on the cooking.

As they wait for Prima and his entourage to arrive, the dinner party indulges in the exquisite food and partakes in a fabulous celebration. Hours go by, however, and it becomes apparent that the famous singer is not coming, although a reporter who came to cover the singer's appearance promises to ask his newspaper to send a food critic. Phyllis catches Secondo and Gabriella kissing and runs off to the beach. At Gabriella's insistence, Pascal admits that he never called Louis Prima, thus ending the party.

Secondo follows Phyllis to the beach where they have a final quarrel. Primo and Secondo have a fiery, heart-wrenching argument, chafing at their mutual differences. In the wee hours of the morning, Pascal admits to Secondo that he set the brothers up for failure, not as revenge for Secondo's affair with Gabriella, but because the brothers would have no choice but to work for him. Secondo refuses him, saying they will never work for him.

As dawn breaks, Secondo silently cooks an omelette. When done, he divides it in thirds, giving one to Cristiano, one for himself, and leaving the remainder in the pan. Primo hesitantly enters, and Secondo serves him the last portion. Cristiano leaves, as the brothers begin to eat. They lay their arms across one another's shoulders, and eat silently.



On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 97% based on 56 reviews, with an average rating of 8.1/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The performances in Big Night are wonderful, and the food looks delicious."[4] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 80 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[5]

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called the movie, "a feast of a film done on a low budget with a menu featuring top-grade acting, writing and direction."[6]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said of the film, "'Big Night' is one of the great food movies, and yet it is so much more. It is about food not as a subject but as a language--the language by which one can speak to gods, can create, can seduce, can aspire to perfection."[7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1996 Sundance Film Festival[8] Grand Jury Dramatic Prize Big Night Nominated
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award Stanley Tucci & Joseph Tropiano Won
1996 Independent Spirit Awards[9] Best First Feature Big Night Nominated
Best First Screenplay Stanley Tucci & Joseph Tropiano Won
Best Male Lead Stanley Tucci Nominated
Tony Shalhoub Nominated
1996 National Board of Review[10] Special Recognition Big Night Won
1996 National Society of Film Critics[11] Best Supporting Actor Tony Shalhoub Won
Best Screenplay Stanley Tucci & Joseph Tropiano Nominated
1996 New York Film Critics Circle[12] Best New Director Big Night Won
Best Supporting Actor Tony Shalhoub Nominated
1996 Los Angeles Film Critics Association[13] Best Screenplay Stanley Tucci & Joseph Tropiano Nominated


  1. ^ "How Stanley Tucci's Big Night helped kick off an American dining revolution". The Guardian. January 24, 2016. Retrieved October 13, 2022.
  2. ^ "Big Night (1996)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (March 29, 1996). "FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW; Brothers' Last Chance to Save Their Paradise". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  4. ^ "Big Night (1996)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved April 9, 2018.
  5. ^ "Big Night reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September 18, 2017.
  6. ^ Travers, Peter (September 20, 1996). "Big Night". Rolling Stone. Retrieved June 27, 2023.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Big Night movie review & film summary (1996)". www.rogerebert.com. Retrieved June 27, 2023.
  8. ^ "1996 Sundance Film Festival". www.sundance.org. Retrieved October 13, 2022.
  9. ^ Weiner, Rex (March 24, 1997). "IFP Lauds 'Fargo'". Variety. Retrieved October 13, 2022.
  10. ^ "1996 Archives". National Board of Review. Retrieved October 13, 2022.
  11. ^ "New Honors for 'Breaking the Waves'". Los Angeles Times. January 6, 1997. Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Retrieved October 13, 2022.
  12. ^ "A (big) night with Stanley Tucci". www.ecufilmfestival.com. October 6, 2022. Retrieved October 13, 2022.
  13. ^ "'Secrets & Lies' Takes L.A. Film Critics Awards". Los Angeles Times. December 15, 1996. Retrieved October 13, 2022.

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