This weekend, I saw “Big Night” for the second time in my life. It is not for everybody. It can be slow, plodding…if it was a .wav file, you’d need to crank up the output to Maximum in order to get this movie to even scrape the level “0” marker. Nevertheless, it is driven by a subdued and slightly rakish understated charm and a very restrained sense of dramatic upheaval. The story is centered around two Italian immigrant brothers, Primo and Secondo, who have opened a small New England restaurant prior to the movie’s opening. The restaurant is faltering, and Secondo, the businessman of the duo, is struggling with bankers in order to buy more time to pay back the overdue loan payments. The restaurant’s banker lays down the law (and ultimatum for Secondo): make the required payment in the next month or the bank will have no choice but to foreclose. Secondo is led to believe by a fellow (and competing) restaurateur that Louis Prima and his entourage have chosen to dine at Primo and Secondo’s ‘s restaurant. This will be the “chance” for the brothers to get that much needed upper crust exposure that just might push their struggling restaurant into successful territory. This is the “big night.” They prepare frantically for the dinner. Primo is the idealistic chef whose mission in life, whose passion, is cuisine; he has only distaste for the business side of the restaurant business and ignorant customers. And like most monomaniacs, he is a bit of a socially stunted miscreant, unlike his brother, the suave and womanizing Secondo. This is a picture of two men whose abilities with women contrasts sharply, a disjunction highlighted further due to the fact they are brothers.
This clip takes place in the lead up to the preparations for the big night when Primo and Secondo are out running errands in preparation.
Primo happens to be smitten with Ann, a woman who works in a flower shop (or the owner, not quite sure) which the restaurant does business with. Secondo is about to enter the bank, and he urges Primo to ask Ann to attend the big dinner before he enters the flower shop.
What a masterful portrayal of “floundreing FOB game” by Tony Shalhoub. When I watched this scene I could only imagine that Shalhoub, at some point in his life, experienced the agony of living out the role of floundering, stage-frightened pussy-uninspired failure. He has all the impotent moves of a socially awkward victim down tight.
The two that strike me as most astute are:
1) The scene at the flower fridge where he suddenly bursts into the tiny space in order to retrieve a rose for Ann. Losing all sense of physical space or appropriateness, he squeezes into an area not meant for such endeavors. Rapidly losing touch with reality, he single-mindedly pursues the rose at the expense of his own dignity. Ann giggles and rolls her eyes and for the sake of dramatic cuteness, she is charmed or amused, but in reality, this kind of shit is a big nail in the coffin and chances are you’ll be lying in bed that night whacking off to the image of your floral wet dream. (BTW, notice that Ann is not all that? She is downright hideous and it’s only fitting that Primo, the culinary, unsocialized nerd, would fixate on her). And the moment when he bursts out of the fridge with the rose is fucking hilarious. Shalhoub nails the nuance and stunted gesture of pseudofluidity as if he “meant to do that” when in reality he is just stumbling out of a tight cold squeeze.
2) His prolonged and embarrassing exit scene. Primo realizes his mission is not accomplished so he attempts to rejuvenate the dwindling interaction by barking out the nonsensical “so what is the story?” rejoinder which is wildly lacking context and disconnected from the stream of current conversation. Ann is confounded. Primo’s mind is operating in quadrant X but the reality of the moment is far away, in quadrant A or something. His feeble attempt at maintaining the tenuous moment where has Ann’s captive attention makes me blush. He is esentially attempting something called “fluff conversation” or “small talk” and is not only harmed by his rudimentary knowledge of the English language (further compounded that the object of his desire is obviously a Literature buff), but also that his head is stuck so far deeply in the barrel of Arborio rice that he doesn’t have the slightest clue how to differentiate types of human behavior.
FOB/Immigrant game is no different than native game. If you’ve got it, it doesn’t matter your language or background. That shit is universal. The socially intelligent person is eminently adaptable. The repressed and awkward monomaniac is not, and his utter lack of game is only compounded by his unfamiliarity with the culture. This is a theme that was present throughout “Big Night” and that is its greatest insight. Lack of game in any language is…lack of game. Social immaturity will always stutter. Social intelligence will always flourish. I’ve always been socially immature, but in the past 10 years I’ve managed to mimic a sense of intelligence, but sometimes the Primo in me pokes out.