Say: Paul Rudnick. What do you think of? Most likely The New Yorker column, “Shouts and Murmurs,” to which he is a frequent contributor. So your expectation is lots of toss-off, funny one liners, right? Well, “Big Night” has many of them, mostly during the first half at which point “Big Night” takes a right turn and becomes a very dark story. Abrupt right turns are not easy to pull off.
“Big Night” refers to Oscar night. Michael (Brian Hutchison) is nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Matt Damon is another contender. Michael is ensconced in a swanky Beverly Hills hotel suite decked out in late, over the top, ‘50s Hollywood style. It is chock full of flowers, swag, and champagne. Michael is anxious. What will he say if he wins? How should he compose his face if Matt Damon gets it instead? And where is his partner of twelve years, Austin (Luke MacFarlane)? His young agent, Cary (Max Jenkins), is pumped up. This is his first Oscar contender client and he wants Michael to shine and focus on a blooming future career.
Cary is not the only one with an agenda for Michael’s acceptance speech. In walks Eddy (Tom Phelan), Michael’s young trans nephew. Then comes Michael’s impossibly youthful mother, Esther (Wendie Malick), making a grand entrance in a floor length, sexy, sequined gown. She in no way resembles the Jewish mother she purports to be. Her son may have some hesitation about being the center of attention, but take it away mom. Esther soaks it up. She has her own surprise, African American Pulitzer Prize winner, Eleanor (Kecia Lewis). But where is partner Austin whom mom adores? Why is he not here?
To go into anymore details of the plot would require a spoiler alert. Suffice it to say, while everyone loves Michael and professes him to be the first priority, everyone has his own politically correct message he (should I now say, “he, she, they, it, hir, zir, or zee?”) wants Michael to deliver. When Austin enters the tone shifts dramatically, and unsuccessfully. Until this point “Big Night” has been an entertaining evening of snarky gay humor, Jewish mother barbs, and soft pokes at political correctness. Easy listening and entertaining, however Rudnick fails the transition from the familiar sense of humor in The New Yorker to the deadly serious stuff of terror and underlying issues. A fine cast and competent direction cannot rescue the material from poor plot development and strained resolution. The charm of the first half crashes into the brick wall of the second when Rudnick tries to make that right turn. The resulting work gets averaged out and the 90 minutes can be summed up as, “Eh,” or to put it in a more modern tone, “Meh.”