Hello everyone and welcome back to another #moviemonday. Over the weekend I sat down to watch My Cousin Vinny. This is a movie that I’ve really enjoyed since I was young as it is one of the few movies that my father enjoys. Over the weekend I introduced it to a friend who loves Joe Pesci but hadn’t seen this particular movie. It was the first time that I had watched it in a long time and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it again. So let’s dive into Movie Monday.
This movie came out in 1992 and it was directed by Jonathan Lynn.
Joe Pesci stars as Vinny, the charming, funny, quick-thinking lawyer who arrives in Alabama to help his cousin Billy and his friend Stan after the two young men find themselves arrested and charged with the murder of a store clerk. The only problem is that Vinny isn’t exactly experienced, in fact this is his first trial.
Audiences get to watch this New Yorker navigate his way through this small town. Vinny doesn’t just have a trial to get through, he must try to do his job while under the scrutiny of everyone in town because in small towns everyone knows everyone and Vinny Gambini stands out like a sore thumb in his black leather jacket.
It seems that everyone and everything is against Billy and Stan. Witnesses are testifying against them, the judge hates them and the jury likely thinks they’re guilty before the trial has even begun and now their fate lies in the hands of Vinny, who finds himself in contempt more than once. The stakes are high but Vinny Gambini is not a man who gives up easily.
I would say this movie has five main characters. Vinny, Billy, Stan, Lisa, and Judge Haller.
The movie’s main protagonists are Billy, Stan, and Vinny.
Billy and Stan are two innocent young men who were unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time. Driving through Alabama, they made a stop at a convenience store. We watch them go in, buy their groceries, and leave again. A few minutes later blue lights are behind them and the boys get pulled over by the police. In the police station, the boys think that they’ve been arrested over a misunderstanding about an unpaid for item however the police have arrested them for the murder of the store clerk who has been shot. The boys confess to their crime, well they confess to what they think is their crime – accidentally stealing a can of tuna, but the police are astounded that they got a murder confession so easily and quickly. It is only when the boys are being booked that they realise the stark reality of their situation and they try to explain themselves, pleading to anyone who will listen that it is a misunderstanding but their pleading is in vain. Unable to afford anyone else, Billy calls the only person he thinks might be able to help, his cousin Vinny.
Billy is the calmer of the two boys. He knows they did nothing wrong and it is him who grasps the reality of the situation faster than Stan. Stan is a nervous wreck and you can’t blame him. He cannot sleep. He is afraid of what will happen to them if they end up in prison, and his fears are completely justified because as the movie goes on, it becomes clear that if the two boys are found guilty, they will likely receive the death penalty. So while this is a comedy, the stakes are high. Billy has faith in his cousin Vinny, he believes in him and it is this faith that gets them through the trial.
Vinny is a confident, (some would say cocky) man from New York. He’s a fast talker and a quick thinker. He and his girlfriend Lisa find out very quickly that they are out of their depth as they are introduced to grits, early morning train whistles, and locals who don’t exactly welcome newcomers. Vinny is not what one would expect when they picture a lawyer. He waltzes into court in his leather jacket and his steel toe boots and he very quickly makes an enemy of the judge. He knows he can win this case, he believes he can but he has no time for procedure and as the movie plays out, it becomes clear that he isn’t exactly qualified for this trial but nevertheless, he is determined to do a good job, he is determined to win.
Lisa is my favourite character in this movie. I would argue that Lisa is iconic. She is fashionable and sarcastic. Every line out of her mouth is quick witted. She is incredibly supportive of Vinny, she believes in him, she wants to help in any way she can but she is not a doe eyed love interest. She is an independent woman who speaks her mind at all times. She is not afraid to tell Vinny when he is messing up and doing poorly and she makes no secret of the fact that he needs to get it together for the sake of those two boys who are counting on him. Lisa is an expert about cars and this is a fact that become the key to the whole movie. I would even say that Lisa is the hero of this movie because her skills, passion, and her little pink Polaroid camera end up being more helpful than Vinny could have ever imagined.
Judge Chamberlain Haller is a no nonsense, strict, respectable man. He has no time for Vinny’s antics, he has no patience for Vinny’s lack of proper courtroom etiquette or respect for the dress code. He is a man who expects to be treated with respect and it seems that this stuck in his ways judge has also decided that the boys are guilty before the trial has even begun.
Vinny, Lisa, Billy and Stan are facing an uphill battle but they are not backing down.
The movie’s key theme is the desire for justice. Vinny is fighting to get to the truth, to prove that Billy and Stan are innocent. A key detail is that as the audience, we know they are innocent. We saw them go into the store and leave the store and the clerk was very much alive when they left so the mounting evidence against them is as much of a shock to the audience as it is to them and it seems incredibly frustrating and unfair because we know they didn’t do it.
Vinny is the underdog. He is fighting against a judge who hates him and picks him apart for every little thing, his clothes, his accent, the fact that he’s from out of town. It’s a frustrating battle because at times it just seems that Vinny can’t do anything right.
There are two senses of injustice in this movie, the first instance being the most important, two innocent young men are on trial for a murder they didn’t commit, and the second instance being the fact that it shouldn’t matter whether or not Vinny wears a suit to court, or if he isn’t as polished as Judge Haller demands, the only thing that should matter is how well Vinny does his job and despite having a shaky start, it soon becomes clear that Vinny isn’t one to dismiss based on how he looks. That old saying, “you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover.”, springs to mind.
This is a movie that gains momentum as it goes on. At first it seems rather slow. I’ve talked a lot about how I think the structure of a movie often matches the plot and this happens again in My Cousin Vinny.
The town that the movie is set in is a slow moving town. The facts of the case seem to take forever to present themselves. The interrogation scenes are frustrating because the longer they go on, the clearer it becomes to the audience that these boys are being charged with murder but the boys don’t realise it yet. It takes a while for Vinny to get the hang of things. He is out of his depth after all and it does become frustrating watching him be held in contempt time and time again. Judge Haller is relentless and you find yourself wishing that he would lighten up and you also find yourself wishing that Vinny would start improving at some point.
I found myself agreeing with Lisa every time she told him that he needed to clean up his act and get it together. He needed to learn the facts. He needed to get people on the stand and start cross-examining witnesses. He needed to step up and once he does, the movie’s pace begins to pick up. The turning point is when Vinny starts to interview the witnesses himself and he begins to realise that the facts aren’t adding up and more specifically, the timeline of the murder doesn’t make sense. His first win in court changes the tone of the movie and for the first time things start looking up for Billy and Stan.
The key to the breakthrough in the case is Lisa. Her moment on the witness stand is the movie’s climax in my opinion. This breakthrough moment is so satisfying to watch. I won’t spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it but Lisa’s knowledge and expertise all about cars and her little pink camera turn out to be extremely important and she deserves a round of applause. Marisa Tomei won an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actress category for her portrayal of Lisa and it is extremely deserved. I cannot imagine anyone else playing this part. If you know you know and as I said, I won’t spoil the movie but I would recommend watching My Cousin Vinny for Lisa’s testimony alone. It is an incredible scene, in fact I would argue it is the best scene in the movie and to quote the movie, Lisa is a “lovely, lovely, witness.”
Despite the pace being slow at the beginning, the comedy in this movie makes up for that. Joe Pesci is very funny as Vinny and his increasing frustration plays out hilariously onscreen and the combination of Pesci and Tomei as Vinny and Lisa is in my opinion, the best part of the movie. The duo are great together. They are a sarcastic, sharp, funny couple and they are endearing. They bicker, they argue, they support each other and they clearly love each other and the humour in this movie, especially in their scenes, makes up for the initially slow pace.
I would say it is a three-part structure. When I talked about The Devil Wears Prada, I talked about how we watched Andy struggle, then adapt, then thrive and I would say the same about the structure of My Cousin Vinny. In this movie we watch Vinny struggle and all seems hopeless for Billy and Stan but then there’s a shift. Vinny starts to get into a rhythm and he gains confidence and the tone changes, suddenly things seem hopeful. The pace picks up, the testimonies are changing and Vinny’s case is gaining momentum. It’s a great movie because the stakes are high and you can feel the tension in the courtroom. The frustration you feel towards Vinny soon becomes support and as soon as he starts making breakthroughs, you find yourself rooting for him. It’s exciting when the wind is changing and it’s especially brilliant at the end, when the case is so close to breaking and it’s even more exciting for the audience watching things change because again, we know the boys are innocent. This would be an entirely different movie if we didn’t see that scene in the beginning when the boys went in, shopped, and left because then we as an audience would be wondering what happened too. We would be wondering did they or didn’t they do it and I believe if this was the case it would be a crime drama movie rather than a comedy. It is interesting how one or two scenes can change an entire movie. There are some brief political elements in this movie, particularly in the scene when the boys are first brought to jail. There are protesters outside who are protesting against the death penalty and I believe if this wasn’t a comedy that this plot point would have been focused on a lot more, bringing a much more serious and political tone to the movie.
My final thoughts are that I really enjoyed this movie. It was really fun watching it with someone who has never seen it before and I was so glad that they enjoyed it. Watching this movie again has renewed my love for the character Lisa. I would say that she is definitely on my list of favourite female characters – which is in fact a topic that I will discuss in more detail at another time.
I would highly recommend this movie because it’s clever, it’s funny, and as I said already, Lisa’s testimony alone is a great reason to watch My Cousin Vinny. It’s a great story, the stakes are high, the characters are funny and endearing and easy to root for. It’s my favourite Joe Pesci movie without a doubt.
So this has been Movie Monday. I hope you enjoyed it. Have you seen My Cousin Vinny? If so, what did you think? Let me know because I love hearing your thoughts.
I hope everyone has a lovely week.