Nailed It! My Cousin Vinny   2 comments

By Atomic Sam

There is one movie that when it shows up on TV I just can’t bring myself to change the channel.  That movie is My Cousin Vinny.


Admit it.  As soon as you read that you said “Two yutes.”  This movie is a true classic and for good reasons.

If you are not familiar with this 1992 comedy, it stars Joe Pesci as Vinny Gambini, a want to be lawyer, who travels to Alabama to serve as his cousin Bill’s (Ralph “The Karate Kid” Maccio) defense attorney in a murder trial.  He is joined by his long suffering fiancée, Mona Lisa,  played brilliantly Marisa Tomei.

Vinny goes up against a legal system that has universally branded his cousin as a murder and has to pick apart the case piece by piece until it collapses in on itself.  The film’s humor comes from the clash between fast talking New Yorker, Vinny, and the slower paced people of the small Alabama town; as well as the mounting relationship problems between him and Mona Lisa.

Tomei won an Oscar for the roll, which was overshadowed by controversy when it was claimed that her name was read off the envelope by mistake.  This was never substantiated and my guess is that her surprise win was more likely due to a split vote.

I don’t need to review this movie.  It has 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, and that tells you pretty much everything you need to know.  I do want to talk about why it is that 20+ years later this movie still gets viewed over and over again.

I’ll start with accuracy.  Fun fact, My Cousin Vinny‘s director Jonathan Lynn has a law degree.  As such, all of the legal proceedings are real world accurate.  The film is even used as a teaching tool for law students to teach them about the unreliability of eye witnesses.  Compare that to say, Runaway Jury, a courtroom thriller that is a lot of fun to watch but ultimately makes you stretch your imagination beyond its breaking point.

He also wrote/directed Clue.

Lynn also wrote/directed Clueperhaps another perfect film.

Second, the first half of the movie is spent making Vinny look like an idiot, only to reveal in the second half that he is actually the smartest guy in the room.

From the moment he questions the first witness you can tell that he is going to save the day.  When things start looking desperate again the movie pulls the same trick with Mona Lisa.  The wormy guy from Independence Day  ( to whom I once served a burrito) shows up playing a forensics expert to prove that it was in fact Bill’s car that fled the scene of the murder.  This is the last piece of evidence that Vinny has been unable to discredit.   In a hail Mary move Vinny calls Mona Lisa, who he spent much of the movie talking down to, to the stand.  She, as it turns out, grew up working in her family’s garage and managed to retain an encyclopedic knowledge of car design.

I’ll take this moment to point out that My Cousin Vinny was the last film appearance of Fred Gwynne, who is most well known as Herman Munster.

She goes on to disprove the expert’s testimony, like a boss.

Everyone wants that feeling.  The feeling that they have been underestimated and can prove their worth to a world that has doubted them.  The knowledge that anyone can overcome the preconceived notions that others have of them.

It does not matter how much better the other lawyer seems to be than Vinny, because Vinny knows that he is good enough to win the case.  It doesn’t matter how much training the forensic expert has in crime scene analysis, Mona Lisa can prove him wrong.  And if they can do it, why can’t everyone?  The central theme of the movie turns out to be that you can not judge anyone without knowing them first, and no one should judge you.

That just makes you feel all good inside.

We can, however, judge this onesie.

We can, however, judge this onesie.

Anther major part of why this movie has so much replay value is that the case against Bill makes perfect sense.  The audience knows that Bill and his friend Stan, who is named as an accessory, are innocent because we get to see their entire side of the story.  But all of the circumstantial evidence points toward them and it looks like a slam dunk for the prosecution.  There is no sense that the system is corrupt or unfairly stacked against the two men, but they fit the bill perfectly.  No one working against them is acting with any malice, they just don’t have any reason to believe the suspects are not guilty.

In that there is no villain in the film actively working against them, just a bunch of people acting reasonably. As much as this is going to sound like a negative, there is no reason to get worked up over My Cousin Vinny.   I think this works in the film’s favor.

I’ll use a more extreme example here to illustrate my point, think of the Garfield comic strip.  When Jim Davis created Garfield he had the intention of creating a character that would be inoffensive but enjoyable, and therefore marketable in the long term.  He never did anything with Garfield that people could get up in arms about, so no one has a reason to dislike the orange cat.  As such most everyone has bought something Garfield related at some point and Davis has cashed in to the tune of $800 Million.

See the similarity?

See the similarities?

Without anything to actively dislike about the characters or story we are left with an incredibly well acted easily digestible tale of murder and false accusation.  Like a Law and Order episode that makes you feel good about your fellow humans, instead of making you think that anyone can turn on you for any reason!  Also, since we never get to know the real killers we don’t get a chance to humanize them and feel bad that they would almost certainly be put to death!

Haha! Wait… never thought about that.  Eh… they were probably jerks anyway.  Hope they got a good lawyer!

So perfect movie or do you disagree? What do you love or hate about My Cousin Vinny? Tell me below!


Posted April 26, 2013 by atomicsam in Film, Nailed It

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2 responses to “Nailed It! My Cousin Vinny

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  1. Why am I not surprised that you watch CGP Grey? This isn’t the most fun of his series. Anyone who wants to see entertaining history should check out his “Secret City of London” or check out his “history, not history” video.

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