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Friday Film Review: My Cousin Vinny

My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Genre: Romance/Comedy
Grade: A

“We’re famous for our mud.”

OMG I love this movie. From the opening credits to the ending ones, this is one of the funniest and best films I’ve seen. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it but I laugh out loud each time, delight in the debunking of stereotypes and cheer Vinny and Lisa on in the brilliant final courtroom scene. For a movie that is almost 20 years old, it wears it well.

Two college age New Yorkers – Bill Gambini (Ralph Macchio) and Stanley Rothenstein (Mitchell Whitfield) – are traveling to California via the Southern route when they stop in an Alabama quick mart for groceries. Bill accidentally walks out without paying for one can of tuna but the two decide it’s not worth turning back to pay. However they’re soon pulled over by the local sheriff and hauled off to jail – still thinking it’s all about the shoplifted item. It’s a rude awakening for them when they’re charged with murder. Not knowing any local attorneys, the two are initally stumped until Bill remembers his cousin Vinny is a newly minted lawyer.

The call goes out and soon Vincent Gambini (Joe Pesci) and his long time girlfriend Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) are on their way South. What follows is a culture clash comedy as the two settle in and Vinny begins to work – and annoy Judge Haller (Fred Gwynne) in court with their differences. Haller suspects Vinny isn’t all he says he is and begins making enquiries about Vinny’s credentials. Meanwhile, Lisa attempts to help Vinny with the case and with the surreal, to them, experience of being in a small Southern town. Things go from bad to worse as Vinny’s lack of courtroom expertise begins to show, he and Lisa can’t seem to get a good nights sleep and the DA (Lane Smith) appears to have the case sown up. With the death penalty on the line, can Vinny turn things around to prove Bill and Stan’s innocence and save his relationship with Lisa before all is lost?

I actually love the opening sequence of the movie. In the South – yes, we sell dirt, the fresh produce at those roadside stands will be some of the best food you can put in your mouth, some people do have hubcap collections and all gardeners go gaga for horse manure. And in the rural South, zoning laws are often such that the eye witnesses could conceivably live close enough to the Sac-o-Suds to think they saw what was going on. The director, Jonathan Lynn, is trained as a lawyer and in the commentary to the film, he states that he tried to keep all the legal stuff correct. Not being one, I’ll have to leave it those who are to say whether or not he succeeded in this trial of two New Yorkers in Ala-fucking-bama. I do like how all the clues and ways Vinny uses to win the case are all laid out as the movie progresses and that it doesn’t rely on a miraculous “rabbit out of the hat” to save the day.

Pesci and Tomei are fabulous in their performances and their accents crack me up. Pesci pulls off Vinny being obnoxious, difficult, and argumentative yet still likeable as the “fish out of water” experiences level him a bit. But he’s still clever and intelligent enough to keep his eyes open and use what he learns to save Stan and Bill. I think Tomei is well deserving of her Oscar and I have a hard time choosing which of her scenes I like the best – Bambi’s lack of concern over the pants worn by the son of a bitch who killed him, her ticking biological (stamp! stamp! stamp!) clock or the hostile witness closing of the case. The two of them work well together as they discover what grits are and argue over whether or not the sink in their hotel bathroom is broken or if Lisa didn’t twist it hard enough. Arguing is almost foreplay for these two.

Lane plays a smooth DA who thinks he’s already got the case won while Austin Pendleton is hilarious as the ineffectual, stuttering public defense attorney. But my favorite secondary character is Gwynne as the no nonsense judge who whips Vinny into shape even as he comes to admire him personally and professionally. Whitfield and Macchio are good but end up sort of fading into the background a lot. There’s also a funny pool player (Chris Ellis) who is part of a running gag about Lisa having been cheated out of $200 she won against him and Vinny’s efforts to make him pay up. The film shows stereotypes about both North and South yet ends up being a film about people more than caricatures.

The film is smart, funny and well written with a cast who worked well as an ensemble. Lynn could have gone for cheap laughs by making fun of everyone but instead he pulled back from that. There are some slapstick moments – watch for Vinny trying to get their car unstuck from the Alabama red clay – but most of the many laughs arise from the way the actors say their lines and the culture shock both sides experience. The way Vinny wins might not be exactly correct yet I was as riveted to my seat as are the jurors, judge and DA as he works to -believe it not – prove that his defense doesn’t hold water. Whenever I need a pick me up or a laugh, this is one of the films I consistently turn to. A

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

36 Comments

  1. Kim in Hawaii
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 05:33:49

    I recent caught this movie on a cable channel. I worked my schedule around watching it again – always brings a smile to my face. No doubt Tomei won her Oscar for her performance on the stand as an “expert” in general automotive knowledge. I wonder where she keeps the statue!

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  2. Elizabeth Raines
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 05:33:54

    I still have a hard time with Tomei winning an Oscar for this movie. It was fun, yes. But Oscar-worthy? Nah. I love seeing Fred Gwynne as the judge.

    Good choice, Jayne. :)

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  3. Janice
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 05:45:48

    Did we ever figure out what “yutes” mean? LOL

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  4. Alex
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 06:14:07

    This is one of my all time favorite movies. I’m always sad when people question oscar wins on comedies. Marisa was incredible in her role and really stole the movie.

    “Imagine you’re a deer…” Seriously, best lines ever those.

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  5. Mary Anne Graham
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 07:13:29

    This one has to be my favorite movie of all time. And yes, it helps that I’m a Southern lawyer who appreciates lawyer jokes and Southern humor. The movie is a long lawyer joke that pokes fun at the small town South.

    I also love that “Vinny” is a tale of second chances and the triumph of late bloomers.

    From my husband’s perspective, he’ll walk into the den, see the movie on TV and say – “You’re watching that again? How can you watch it again? You can just about recite it by heart.” As Dave would say, YUUPP – and that’s the point.

    Watching “My Cousin Vinny” is like having dinner with an old & beloved friend.

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  6. Sarah Frantz
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 07:14:36

    God, I love this movie. Can’t wait to show it to my son. It’s so brilliant. :)

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  7. Jane
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 07:16:46

    I tell many a people that this movie has some of the most authentic courtroom scenes in entertainment. The way in which Vinnie authenticates Marisa Tomei as an expert is exactly how it is done in real life.

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  8. Mary G
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 07:22:11

    Loved reading this Jayne. Lisa’s “expert” court room scene is my fave besides Vinny’s bad suit.

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  9. Shea
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 07:51:07

    “Yutes? Did you say ‘yutes’?” Classic.

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  10. Amy Kathryn
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 07:57:15

    I will just join in the squeeing…I can’t not sit down and watch this movie if I see it playing as I go through the channels.

    “No self-respecting southerner uses instant grits…Does physics not work the same around your stove as the rest of the grit making world?”

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  11. DS
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 08:26:38

    I need to watch this again. I last saw it when it hit the theatres– I was still going to movies then rather than waiting for them to come to me. It was both funny and authentic. I think Tomei well deserved her Oscar.

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  12. Jayne
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 08:36:24

    @Mary G: I love the way Lisa shoots down DA Trotter’s attempt to discredit her with his bullshit question.

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  13. Darlene Marshall
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 08:39:32

    My husband the Southern lawyer loved this movie ’cause they got so much of it right, and I love it just for the laughs and the feel good aspect of it all.

    Thanks for the memories!

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  14. Christine
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 09:16:33

    Such a fun movie. I remember almost falling out of my chair at the movies laughing over “Are these MAGIC grits?!” I love the scene where Vinnie “cross examines” Lisa over the sink. It’s a fabulous set up for the end with her as expert witness and I agree it’s definitely their version of foreplay. It’s so nice to have a character like Lisa played as super sharp and not a funny “bimbo”. I always want her to say at the end that she is going back to school to become a lawyer.

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  15. Sophia (FV)
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 10:02:00

    I haven’t watched this movie in a long time. I need to remedy that. Thanks for reminding me just how great it is. :)

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  16. Cherrie Lynn
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 10:20:44

    One of my absolute favorite movies of all time, and the one I would most often think of whenever I had to walk into the courtroom at work. Sometimes it was hard to keep a straight face!

    Judge: “Didn’t I tell you the next time you appear in my courtroom, you would dress appropriately?”
    Vinny: “… You were SERIOUS about that?”

    Love. It. Also loved Marisa and I think she totally deserved that Oscar.

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  17. Patrice
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 10:27:12

    Oh this is absolutely one we will stop and watch whenever we run across it on cable, not to mention we have the DVD also. Some of the best lines ever! Smiles multiplied.
    “Oh you think I’m going to marry you now?” lol

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  18. Julie James
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 10:33:11

    I love this movie, too. It’s one of those films where I can’t begin to pick out my favorite line or scene, because so many are memorable. Two that stick out in my head right now are Vinny’s cross-examination of the guy who has a “rusty, dusty, dirty looking thing” covering his window, and Vinny’s meltdown right before the trial: “Is there any more SHIT we can pile on to the top of the outcome of this case?” Good stuff.

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  19. Jill
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 10:48:47

    I quote this movie all the time. I am a mousy little Irish girl from the Midwest, but I am known for my killer Lisa impersonation ;-)
    Also, my husband said they actually watched the the Marisa Tomei “authenticating the witness” scene in law school.

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  20. Kate Pearce
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 10:57:58

    I love this movie and made all my kids watch it with me last time it was on! Everyone is awesome in it. I think Marisa would’ve made a perfect Stephanie Plum. :)

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  21. Mary G
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 11:29:30

    @Jayne:
    Exactly Jayne. I think the contrast between her glam looks & smart mouth was what did it. I loved her head bob motions, her ‘whatevah’, and everything. I thought she stole every scene she was in. I’ve never been so riveted by her in any other movie although Untamed Heart came close.

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  22. LSUReader
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 11:40:55

    My Cousin Vinny is such a fun movie. We watched it again a couple of weeks ago and the laughs still come just as hard. I love Pesci and Tomei and Gwynne!

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  23. Jeannie
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 11:47:47

    One of my all time favorites. I dearly love how fun gets poked at both North and South. All too often we “suthenahs” are the sole butt of the joke and our delicate constitutions get offended.;)

    True story – My husband and I stayed in a hunting cabin up in the Georgia woods one weekend. In the middle of the night the whole cabin begins to shake then a loud train whistle brought us out of the bed. Come to find out there was a railroad crossing just around the corner from where we were staying. And that was one busy track. I don’t think I slept the entire weekend.

    And what’s so wrong with Marisa Tomei winning an Oscar for this movie? I get sick of the little golden statue always going to the serious actress in a serious role in a serious movie. Geez, she made me laugh until I cried, she deserves it!

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  24. Bonnie Dee
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 11:57:33

    This is a classic all right. Now I feel the need to watch it again. Thanks for reminding me how great it is.

    *nudge* If you like fish out of water/culture clash stories, remember to check out Outsourced as I suggested /*nudge*

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  25. Mary G
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 11:58:20

    @Jeannie: It really annoyed me that soon after she won, there were claims made that the presenter (I think it was Jack Palance) made a mistake announcing her name. How crummy. I checked her fellow nominees & they were pretty serious actresses which may be why people were surprised.

    Vanessa Redgrave-Howards End
    Joan Plowright-Enchanted April
    Judy Davis-Husbands and Wives
    Miranda Richardson-Damage

    Still, I liked the underdog winning.

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  26. Jayne
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 12:37:09

    @Bonnie Dee: I did, I did. I watched it and reviewed it on October 14th. It was a good rec! ;)

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  27. Jayne
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 12:39:57

    @Patrice: I love the way they drive off into the sunset, so to speak, still arguing…

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  28. JoannaV
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 13:46:04

    Just rewatched this movie recently when it was on cable, hadn’t seen it all the way through since it first came out. My husband and I were both pleasantly surprised at how funny it was and how well it had held up – not every movie you rewatch after a long gap is as good as you remember it. And I agree – Marisa Tomei totally deserved the Oscar!

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  29. cyclops8
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 14:13:56

    I love this movie, too. I always watch it when it airs on Comedy Central.

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  30. JacquiC
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 15:01:55

    I love this movie too! My evidence law professor used this movie to illustrate certain examples of the way particular evidence law principles play out in a court room. Not sure the film was entirely accurate in its depiction of all such evidentiary principles (and my prof was not saying it did), but at least the examples made some of the more technical evidence points fun and a bit more accessible!

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  31. Elizabeth Raines
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 15:02:39

    Wow. The crowd has spoken. Opinion revised — Marisa deserved her trophy. :)

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  32. Angie
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 17:04:01

    Wonderful, hilarious, awesome movie. :) My family was going “Duh too yutes” over and over for a good week after we first saw it, hee! Agreement about the final court scene — classic.

    Angie

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  33. Laura Florand
    Dec 02, 2011 @ 17:43:00

    I totally agree, this is one of the best movies ever. “Tell me, what is a grit?” Tomei and Pesci are a match made in heaven.

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  34. Jayne
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 04:05:11

    @Laura Florand: I love the scene in the diner where they’re sitting there, staring at their plates and Tomei says something like, “Are you gonna eat it?”

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  35. Summer Stephens
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 09:50:48

    I live in the town where most of My Cousin Vinny was filmed. The courthouse you see in the movie is the one I see several times a week and I never look at it, or our town square, without giggling. My husband and I have never remembered the actual name of the restaurant that offers “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” so we just call it Breakfast Lunch Dinner. Near the end of the movie, when the actual criminals are caught, “Sheriff Tillman of Jasper County GA” is referenced; Sheriff Tillman was actually our sheriff at the time and this IS Jasper County, GA. The Sack ‘o Suds is closed and dying now, sadly, but you’d recognize my town instantly if you passed through. Fred Gwynne was flawless in that film and if he was indeed a judge, he’d fit in here perfectly. And yes, if you come here and say “yutes,” we look at you funny. :)

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  36. Jayne
    Dec 04, 2011 @ 13:28:11

    @Summer Stephens: That’s so neat! Were you living there when it was filmed?

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