A wonderful screwball legal comedy

My Cousin Vinny

(US, 1992)
Directed by Jonathan Lynn

Review by Barbara Popel

When you think of actor Joe Pesci, what do you think of? A terrifyingly psychopathic Italian gangster? The manager of a violent boxer? A burglar? Well, if you’ve never thought of Pesci as a comedian, treat yourself to two hours of wonderful comedy – My Cousin Vinny.

Pesci plays Brooklyn lawyer Vincent (Vinny) LaGuardia Gambini. Vinny is a former auto mechanic who, after six tries, finally passed his bar exam six weeks ago. He’s planning to specialize in personal injury cases, but when his young cousin Bill and Bill’s friend Stan are arrested in Alabama for murder – a murder they didn’t commit – they need a defence lawyer. So even though Vinny has never attended a murder trial and knows nothing about judicial procedure, he arrives from New York with his fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito (the superlative Marisa Tomei), to be the boys’ lawyer.

Vinny and Mona are real “fish out of water” in small town Alabama, and this is played for exquisite laughs. Vinny’s idea of blending in is to wear fancy black cowboy boots with silver toe caps. Mona’s skin-tight leather clothes, bouffant hair and décolletage make her seem from another planet. Their first encounter of grits for breakfast is priceless! If you’ve never had grits…well, it’s an acquired taste.

Tomei won the 1993 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in this role, and it’s easy to see why. She and Pesci are totally credible as a smart sassy couple who have been engaged for 10 years. They have their own private way of talking to each other. For example, there’s a scene involving an annoying dripping tap that escalates from tetchiness to playacting that gets more and more extreme (“It’s the kind of wrench NASA uses!” she yells) to a touching, loving denouement when Vinny agrees with Mona that, yes, the tap is broken.

Every other cast member is downright perfect. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out Fred Gwynne as the courtly by-the-book Judge Chamberlain Haller. You may remember this 6-foot-5 actor from the TV show The Munsters. The scenes between him and the vertically challenged, loud-mouthed Pesci are an acting class about how funny a scene between two complete opposites can be.

Speaking of the law, My Cousin Vinny is number three on the American Bar Association’s list of Greatest Legal Movies. And Vincent Gambini came in at number 12 on the association’s list of Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Aren’t Atticus Finch). It’s that accurate in portraying the American legal system.

Give yourself a treat. See My Cousin Vinny. Youse will love it.

Running time: 120 minutes
Rated: 14A
Available: AppleTV, Cineplex, Disney, Crave, Google Play, Hoopla, Microsoft, Prime Video, StarZ, YouTube

 Barb Popel has lived in the Glebe since 1991. At university in the early 1970s, she was introduced to the joys of film. She’s been an avid filmgoer ever since.

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