Stanley Tucci's love letter to food, family, and the American Dream is Big Night, a small 1996 film about two Italian brothers who own a restaurant at the Jersey shore. Set in the fifties, the movie has terrific period details, from Isabella Rossellini's chic haircut to the giant-finned cars that cruise the main street of the shore town that is home to the guys' restaurant, Paradise. (Parts of the movie were filmed in Keyport, right here in NJ.)
The brothers Primo (Tony Shalhoub, who plays one of the most convincing Italians I've seen on screen) and Secondo (Tucci) are struggling to make a go of Paradise. Primo is the consummate chef, whose focus is on serving authentic dishes from their native Abruzzi. Secondo is the businessman, who knows that their American clientele are expecting a different kind of fare from the delicate risottos and seafood dishes that Primo lovingly prepares.
As the brothers lose customers to their competition, Pascal (Ian Holm, in a hilarious turn) it looks as though the Paradise will close. When Secondo hears that musician Louis Prima is in town, the brothers risk everything for that one big night, putting every bit of their resources into planning a grand feast for the famous band leader. And here is the real joy of this film--the food. Each course that comes out is more gorgeous than the last, culminating in a timpano, a complicated dish of pasta, eggs, meat and cheese baked in pastry. I won't tell you if Prima ever does show up, but it sure is fun waiting for him to arrive, as the restaurant's guests eat, drink, dance, and smoke the night away.
To me this movie feels like home--it's got great food, Italian accents, fifties music and the Jersey shore. Paradise, no?
♥ ♥ ♥
*Secondo's answer to a restaurant patron who asks why there aren't meatballs with her spaghetti.