Serving up a big dish of entertainment

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By Kelly Dolejsi

What make one particular night different from all others? What makes it big?

Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott’s “Big Night” (1996) answers that question with a side of risotto.

Warning: Do not watch this movie if you are hungry, especially if you are tempted by Olive Garden commercials. If you do watch it, prepare yourself for scene after scene of fresh noodles, tomatoes, Romano cheese, salami and meatballs.

Of the films Mesa Public Library has presented in this season’s food-themed Free Film Series, this is the first that’s actually about food. Lots of delicious, steaming, Italian food.

The story takes place in a small, failing, but wonderful hole-in-the-wall restaurant.

Primo (Tony Shalhoub), the chef, cooks with the demanding intensity of an artist. It hurts him to use sub-par ingredients, or to satisfy guests at his restaurant who want to pair rice and spaghetti. He loves chopped eggplant the way a painter might love cadmium red. And ultimately, he creates for himself.

On the other hand, his brother, Secondo (Tucci), loves the restaurant itself. He works not for beauty, like Primo does, but for money. As such, he sees the restaurant not as an edible gallery, but as a business, and is continually frustrated by Primo’s insistence on cooking only what he sees as the best dishes and not what people want to eat.

The film is about food, but also about the closely related issues of taste, appetites and desire. All of these issues come to a button-straining culmination when the brothers prepare for and host a feast in honor of a popular jazz musician.

What is good? What is best? What appetites should be fulfilled and which ones result in too-terrible an aftertaste? Are some desires wrong? Which indulgences are entirely selfish? The brothers learn the questions are too complex for the simple answers they’d like to give.

As to what makes one night stand out from all the rest, sometimes it comes down to unmet expectations and the changes they give you the opportunity to make.

Shalhoub is endearing as the big brother, quietly wiser and yet more innocent than his confused younger sibling. Tucci plays his role compassionately as well, characterizing a man intent on success who doesn’t know what he wants to succeed in.

Minnie Driver plays Secondo’s girlfriend, Phyllis, perfectly. She’s a sweet but blunt woman who could do much better. Though she’s not in many scenes, Allison Janney dazzles as Ann, a florist whom Primo – and probably everyone who watches the movie – adores.

Mesa Public Library will present “Big Night” (rated R for language and some sexuality) as part of its Free Film Series at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the upstairs meeting room theater.

“Diner,”: the series’ season finale, will screen on March 4.

The series is made possible by Friends of the Library, and is co-sponsored by the Los Alamos Arts Council.

For more information, call 662-8240 or visit www.losalamosnm.us/library.

Kelly Dolejsi is a member of the Los Alamos Arts Council.