“Big Girls Don’t Cry” Review
“Walk Like a Man”
“Big Girls Don’t Cry” is one of my favorite Sopranos episodes. However, your enjoyment will largely depend on what you think of Christopher Moltisanti. Because he’s one of my favorite TV characters ever, I’ve always held this episode in high regard. In fact, this is his high point of the series.
The natural continuation to season one’s “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” once again finds Chris in a very sympathetic state. Adriana enrolls him in an “Acting for Writers” seminar to help with his screenplay woes (the unfinished You Bark, I Bite), which causes major confliction between his Mafia machismo and his thoughtful passion for movies.
It sounds like the most uncharacteristic storyline yet but make no mistake, Chris’ scenes are what make this episode so great. The surprising depth of emotion makes for one of the finest hours of the season.
Writer Terence Winter makes his Sopranos debut with this episode, and he’ll go on to become one of the series’ main architects. Winter was responsible for some of The Sopranos’ very best episodes, and his specialty was capturing the series’ in-between moments — the lulls in action when the day-to-day lives of the characters take center stage.
“Big Girls Don’t Cry” touches base with nearly every character on the show (save for Livia), showing that Winter already has a complete mastery over his source material. The subtle interactions reward attentive viewers, and the understatement provides authenticity to each respective arc. Not a single moment is wasted.
Notice as AJ remains silent and dismayed in the corner of the kitchen as his father angrily rips the phone out of the wall. Or how Artie and Charmaine Bucco continue their marital squabbles in the background. Carmela immediately slams the door when Uncle Junior shows up at the house. A downtrodden Big Pussy tries to make jabs at newcomer Furio Giunta. Of course, Irina feeds junk food to some nearby ducks, much to Tony’s dismay.
The in-between moments are what make up this episode. The episode’s greatness relies on our empathy, as we can identify with what every character is going through.
The mob storyline this week involves Furio coming over to America and a brothel-keeper who is behind on his payments. The two stories meet when Tony commissions Furio to send a message. And send it he does.
The in-between moments give way to the show’s biggest burst of violence yet, as Furio goes into the brothel armed with a pistol and a baseball bat. Hellfire ensues. Director Tim Van Patten follows Furio’s carnage through the massage parlor in one visceral and unbroken tracking shot. The shaky handheld camera provides a sudden jolt to the system. We already saw how ruthless Furio could be in “Commendatori,” but this Tarantino-like intensity takes us by surprise. And keeping true to the Tarantino aesthetic, the unexpected violence is beautiful.
Meanwhile, Dr. Melfi continues meeting with her own therapist and relays her conflicting emotions about dropping Tony as a patient. It’s obvious that for her role on the show to continue, she will have to pick Tony back up eventually. And even though her therapy sessions with Dr. Kupferberg are somewhat tedious (as are Tony’s pseudo-therapy sessions with Hesh Rabkin), the scenes still provide some good humor. For instance, Melfi storms out of a session just like her former patient did.
Later on, Melfi finally reaches out to Tony, but he rejects the offer. She leaves an appointment open in case he changes his mind. Unsurprisingly, he’s there the next day. In their first therapy session since season one, they begin arguments anew. A return to normalcy.
In the meantime, Chris taking a theater class is the in-between moment that resonates throughout the episode, even transcends it. Every time the episode cuts away from his story, I want to get back to it as quickly as possible.
Chris has had some good moments thus far in season two but has not yet had a spotlight. In fact, he hasn’t done anything much since “The Legend of Tennessee Moltisanti.” “Big Girls Don’t Cry” places him squarely in that lovable underdog role once again, while also showcasing him as one of the funniest characters on the series.
Chris is insecure and unconfident, constantly looking for some sort of recognition. To his (and our) surprise, he’s a natural actor, quickly becoming the star of the acting class through talent, humor and charisma.
When Chris first introduces himself to the class, Van Patten films from a slight descending angle, as Chris keeps his head down and eyes on the floor. However, once he tells a few jokes and becomes more respectful of the art, he sits confidently among his classmates, finally able to look them in the face.
Nevertheless, he still feels conflicted. This may be the life he dreams about, but he’ll forever be trapped by the commitments to his other life that binds his hands. If anyone ever found out about his acting abilities, it could ruin him (just like how Tony tried to keep his therapy a secret in season one). That’s why he’s afraid to break out of his shell. When Adriana starts to giggle as they practice a scene together, Chris immediately retreats, says “fuck this” and snorts a line of coke.
When Chris finally does break out of his shell, he goes too method, breaking down in tears while reenacting a scene from Rebel Without a Cause. After the scene is over, he storms out of class. During the next session, he punches a fellow acting student in the face. David Chase once again cruelly teases how people will never change.
But the ending of the episode is a particularly heartbreaking cruelty from Chase, hitting all the right notes of tragedy. What’s most amazing about the scene is that it doesn’t need dialogue to operate.
Chris walking out to the alley and throwing away all his screenplay material is one of the saddest moments of the entire series. Unfortunately for him, it’s a defining moment in his character development.
I’d wager that this is one of Chris’ best moments on the entire show. As a matter of fact, season two is probably when he was at his peak. He’s definitely at his most likable, and he’ll go on to steal every scene he’s in this year, retaining that lovable underdog demeanor throughout the season’s duration. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is one of Chris Moltisanti’s, and actor Michael Imperioli’s, finest hours.
- For more discussion on Christopher Moltisanti’s character, read my article on Michael Imperioli.
- “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by The Four Seasons plays in the background during a scene at Vesuvio’s. One of the final episodes of the series — and also the final episode focused completely on Chris — will feature a similar title: “Walk Like a Man.”
- After finding out that Richie and Janice are now living with each other in his grandma’s house, Tony tells Richie: “There are men in the can better looking than my sister.” Richie stops cooking eggs and looks up: “To each his own, Tony. To each his own.”
- Hesh tells Tony that Johnny Boy Soprano used to suffer from panic attacks as well. Perhaps Tony’s anxiety is more genetic than previously thought.
- One of the best exchanges between Tony and Dr. Melfi occurs when Tony tells her about Furio’s rampage. Tony: “I wished it was me in there.” Melfi: “Giving the beating or taking it?” Tony can only smile.
- Big Pussy and his FBI handler Skip Lipari seem to be cut from the same cloth. Both of them complain to each other after having been passed over for promotion in their respective organizations.
- “Big Girls Don’t Cry” was written by Terence Winter and directed by Tim Van Patten.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
- “I had some problems with my screenplay so I bought that book, uh, ‘How to write a movie in 21 days.’ That was a year ago.”
- “You got a problem besides those fucking pants?”