Monday, June 28, 2010
Big Night -- enjoying life, food and God
Directors: Campbell Scott & Stanley Tucci, 1996. (R)
Big Night is a "slice of life" movie set in the 50s that throws food, love and life into the mixing bowl and produces an affectionate casserole that some will enjoy and others will avoid. It is reminiscent of the superior Babette's Feast, filmed a decade earlier, particularly the spectacular feast of the big night itself.
Primo (Tony Shalhoub, Monk) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci, Julie and Julia) have an Italian restaurant on the East Coast. Emigrants from Italy, their hopes and dreams are tied up in this business. Primo is the older and gifted chef. His younger brother, Secondo, is the front-man who smoothly interfaces with the clientele . . . when there is some.
The restaurant offers superb food but is on the brink of bankruptcy. It is not surprising, since the brilliant chef is not willing to make what customers want. When they desire something plain or ordinary, such as spaghetti and meatballs, to go with the exceptional risotto, he refuses to make it. After all, he argues, you don't add a starch with rice. He knows better than the customer! Though they know what they want and like, he believes he knows the appropriate culinary combinations. He is a genius and they are simply philistines!
Across the street, literally, is another Italian restaurant owned and run by Pascal (Ian Holm, Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings) with his girlfriend Gabriella (Isabella Rossellini). Their food is routine and ordinary, but the business is enormously successful. These two restaurants could not be more opposite.
When the bank tells Secondo he has till the end of the month to pay his bills or face foreclosure, the story is set. Without finances, Secondo approaches Pascal for advice and a loan. Telling Pascal the pressure is too much, he gets advice: "What this is: 'too much'? HEY! It is never 'too much'; it is only 'not enough'! Bite your teeth into the ass of life and drag it to you! HEY!" Classic, over-the-top, Italian wisdom.
Pascal puts his finger on a key piece of advice for all of us. Life is here to be seized and enjoyed. We need to grab hold of life and run with it. Even when things look bleak, we need to realize this is our life. Life happens and has to happen. We can be passive or active. It is better to accept reality head-on and move forward. Make a plan and take a risk.
Although not offering him money, Pascal promises to set the two brothers up with a big-time jazz musician who will play a special benefit for them at their restaurant. With this plan, Secondo decides to risk it all on one big night of food, music and fun. And what a night it is! Finally the restaurant is filled with friends, lovers, and the press. Prima surpasses himself and creates a feast for the senses. As he says, "To eat good food is to be close to God."
Enjoying good food is part of enjoying life. God made us creatures with senses and physical needs. We need food to keep our bodies going. But there is food as fuel and there is food as sensory pleasure, almost an art form. Solomon, the writer of the wisdom book of Ecclesiastes, said: "So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun." (Ecc. 8:15) Indeed, when we experience heaven we will enjoy a great wedding feast promised by Christ to his Church (Rev. 19:9). Food and festivities are part of the celebrations of life, both now and later.
Enjoying good food and enjoying life are important. Enjoying God is primary. God has gifted us with life. He wants us to know him personally. And we can do so through Jesus Christ, his son (Jn. 17:3). King David, Solomon's father, used a culinary metaphor to describe this relationship with God: "Taste and see that the LORD is good" (Psa. 34:8). To fully enjoy life we need to fully know God, as Jesus said: "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (Jn. 10:10).
Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs
at 7:00 AM