There have been many notable films throughout history that succeed in bringing courtroom drama and legal proceedings to the most dramatic levels possible. Some examples are To Kill a Mockingbird, 12 Angry Men, and A Few Good Men. Then there’s My Cousin Vinny, a movie about justice the American way practically without any drama but overloaded with laughs. With Dale Launer (who scripted movies like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Ruthless People) as the screenwriter, Jonathan Lynn (director of Clue) in the director’s chair, and a superb cast, My Cousin Vinny can easily be put as one of my ten favorite comedies.
While passing through a small town in Alabama on their way to college, Billy Gambini (Ralph Macchio) and his friend Stan (Mitchell Whitfield) are wrongly charged with first degree murder. Luckily for these two young friends, Billy has a lawyer in the family that is willing to represent them for nothing. Enter Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) and his fiancée Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei), two New Yorkers who stick out like a sore thumb in this Alabama town. Unfortunately for Billy, it took Vinny six attempts over six years to pass the bar exam, he only has worked on small suits, and he’s never actually been part of a trial. What Vinny lacks in experience, however, he more than makes up for it in wit and wordplay, which may actual make him the ideal lawyer to defend the two innocent defendants.
In my last review, I talked about the film Bernie and how dark comedies are my favorite kind of comedies. That still holds true, but My Cousin Vinny is the perfect example of a more lighthearted comedy that succeeds because of it’s excellent writing. The characters are well thought out and given very strong, yet over the top personalities that make them all memorable and unique. The dialogue they are given is all snappy and delivered by the actors very quickly, so if you aren’t paying attention, you may miss something hilarious. That’s comedy I can really appreciate. There are plenty of moments where the laughs are obvious, but there are other jokes you may catch after the second or third time watching it.
My only complaint I have with this movie is that the entire story is kind of shoddily written. I understand that the whole point of My Cousin Vinny are the over the top characters, but it would have been nice to see some mystery or suspense in trying to solve who the real murderer is. For all I know, that might have never worked, but I just felt like the case was pretty thin. While the case itself isn’t too exciting, the way the courtroom proceedings actually happen is interesting. Jonathan Lynn actually studied law, which makes him the ideal directing choice to inject some reality in all of the silliness of the court scenes.
Front and center of pretty much the entirety of the movie is Joe Pesci as Vinny, who may be one of the most memorable main characters in a comedy. The way Pesci delivers his lines is so rapid fire and with such confidence, you can’t help but to love this character. With an actor like Pesci at center stage, it’s important that the right person was chosen to be his sidekick/fiancée. This career starting performance was given by Marissa Tomei, who may actually be the best part of this movie. It’s one of those performances where I truly believed I was watching Mona Lisa Vito on screen and not Tomei playing the character. In fact, it was such a great screen performance that she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Now that’s how you kickstart a career.
My Cousin Vinny has become one of the most recognized and appreciated comedies of the last 20 to 30 years. Now, I’m not saying it’s the absolute greatest but it is one that has writing and acting that go way above what has come to be expected from comedies. It takes a relatively simple idea and runs with it, determined to make the best of every goofy stereotype and hilarious scenario that could possibly be thrown at it. It’s one of my favorite comedies and should be seen by anyone who loves a good laugh.