Big Night (1996)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) were Italian brothers who ran a struggling Italian restaurant. On the verge of foreclosure, Secondo took Pascal’s (Ian Holm) offer, a fellow restaurant owner, of inviting a celebrity who he claimed to be his friend in order for the brothers’ place to gain a bit of popularity. The big night consisted of a wild party with a mix of great food, good friends and influential people. Directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci, the film was a delectable piece of work. It successfully captured passionate people who happened to lead a struggling business without having to result to the audiences having to feel sorry for them. Instead, the movie simply showed that Primo and Secondo had a great combination of talent and excellent palate, but the one thing they needed was a good word-of-mouth. Typical Americans just couldn’t appreciate the way they served their food. Primo wanted to make genuine Italian food but most Americans were doubtful of the strange. Early in the movie, there was highly amusing scene of a woman and her husband not understanding why the pasta didn’t have any meatballs. I had to laugh at their confused looks and frustrated voices because I recognized myself in them. There’s just something comforting about the familiar and having to step away from it most often causes friction. The film was also about the women in the brothers’ lives. Phyllis (the alluring Minnie Driver) loved Secondo but maybe he just wasn’t ready to be in long-term relationship. Money was near the top of his priorities but Phyllis didn’t consider it to be all that important. On the other hand, Primo was interested in Ann (Allison Janney), who worked at a flower shop, but he was too shy to invite her to attend the party. The best way Primo could communicate was through food. Luckily, Ann liked to eat. What I admired most about the film was its fearless ability to hold long takes. My favorite scene was when Primo returned to the kitchen after he and Secondo had an altercation. Secondo was initially by the stove as he prepared a dish for the feast. As a gesture of forgiveness, the younger one slowly inched away from the fire and allowed his older brother to be at the place where was most comfortable. Not a word was uttered. There was something assured and powerful about the way the camera was held and the manner in which it framed the two characters’ movements. A similar technique was implemented in the final scene when the space between the brothers grew smaller. There was no doubt in our minds that they would keep moving forward together. “Big Night” was beautiful film but not just because of the mouth-watering Italian food. It unabashedly explored the love between brothers without the clichéd epiphanies.
★ / ★★★★
“Flakes,” directed by Michael Lehmann, looked good from the trailer because it focused on why these group of characters are different (and proud of it). But the actual film was very disappointing because it ultimately succumbed in typicality; it focused on the romantic relationship between the two leads instead of the actual concept: having a food establishment that serves nothing but cereal. The bistro was lead by Aaron Stanford whose goal is to be a musician but doesn’t quite get there because of his own fears of spreading his wings. On the outside, he says that he wants to be something more but on the inside he’s content on where he is. His girlfriend is played by Zooey Deschanel, someone as quirky and different as Stanford, who’s a painter and wants to help her boyfriend out by taking over the cereal restaurant for a couple of days. Another part of the problem was when a competitor opens in front of them that also features cereal. From then on, a rivalry insues between the two restaurants and the couple. This indie comedy would have been so much more interesting if it did not focus on the relationship between the two leads. Seeing them act like children by trying to make each other miserable, claiming that what they do is “just a job and nothing personal” was too immature and insulting. A smart person (and filmmaker) should realize that sometimes job and relationships DO affect each other in more ways than not. The premise (and therefore the execution) would have been that much more interesting if it straddled that line instead of simply taking sides. Also, in my opinion, Christopher Lloyd was wasted here as the original cereal bistro owner. All he did was pretty much look unkept and mumble nothingness. In the end, I couldn’t get over its “Look! I’m being so indie and different!” feel to the point where it felt almost commercial–the antithesis on what it’s trying to be. Not even the always lovable Deschanel could save this train wreck.