Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Big Night


When we were traveling in our motor home we hooked it up at the Ocean Breeze trailer park in Oceano, California. We were about a hundred yards from the beach. Next to the park was an empty building. People started renovating it, which took an amazingly long time, but when it opened it was a pizza parlor. Behind it all was an old man who spoke no English, and whose plan was to introduce Americans to real Italian pizza. He had bought a wood-fired oven that apparently was the Rolls-Royce of pizza ovens. Very expensive. It had some sort of turntable in it that shuffled the pizzas around, cooking it to perfection, or so we were told. When the pizza came to our table it turned out to be a totally unremarkable circle of dough that didn’t have much pepperoni on it, and tasted pretty bland. It was also overpriced. Possibly my plebian American tongue just wasn’t ready to deal with the subtleties of real Italian pizza. But I wasn’t the only one. The shop didn’t last more than a few months. Americans like me want our pizzas heaped with stuff, three or four toppings, tons of cheese.

This movie reminded me of that old man. Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci are Primo and Secondo, recent immigrants from Italy who have opened a restaurant, the Paradise, on the Jersey shore. Primo is a genius cook, but his crazy perfectionism is killing their business. If a customer doesn’t like the way the way the gnocchi looks and wants a side order of spaghetti and meatballs, Primo is apt to come storming out of the kitchen to berate them as American idiots. Poor Secondo is trying to make the business work, but no one is coming … or at least they’re not coming twice. Their only regular customer pays them in paintings.

Ian Holm, the owner of a very successful Americanized restaurant and night club wants to hire Primo, which the brothers refuse. Then Holm offers to invite his good friend Louis Prima to Paradise as a way to attract business. The brothers spend the whole day preparing dish after dish, centering around a timballo, which looks scrumptious, as does all the food. Hours go by and everyone has a terrific time, getting drunk and full. Of course Prima doesn’t show, it was all a scam.

It is a small movie, from the heart. I’ve seen it twice now, and liked it even better the second time. Isabella Rossellini and Minnie Driver are both great as Secondo’s girlfriends.