Challenge Week 2: My Cousin Vinny

How have I never seen this movie before?! I’ve heard of it for a long time, of course, because I used to be a huge Oscar history aficionado and I knew Marisa Tomei had won a Best Supporting Award for it, but I really knew absolutely nothing else about it. I think I assumed it was something to do with the mob, because Joe Pesci is always something to do with the mob, right?

Turns out it’s about a couple of college kids from New York road-tripping through Alabama; they stop in a convenience store, accidentally shoplift, then get arrested…for the murder of the convenience store clerk. In a panic, one of them (played by The Karate Kid), calls home and gets his Cousin Vinny (Pesci), a lawyer, to come down and help them out. Except Cousin Vinny is BARELY a lawyer, spent six years trying to pass the bar, and has never had a real case in court. What he does have, however, is a whole lot of attitude, which doesn’t always go down well with the very by-the-book judge (a wonderful turn from The Munsters‘ Fred Gwynne).

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Pesci and Gwynne are fantastic, and the kids don’t get in the way much, but the real MVP is Marisa Tomei as Pesci’s long-time girlfriend Lisa. Everything that comes out of her mouth is hilarious, and her delivery is spot-on. I figured she’d be good – you have to be doing something special to win an Oscar in a comedy – but she is marvelous. I haven’t seen too many of her other major roles (I know Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is one on my list), but I can’t help but think based on this she ought to have had a much more visible career than she’s had.

When the opening credits took us down to Alabama, I was initially concerned that the script would take a lot of cheap shots at the Deep South, but it mostly doesn’t. It’s definitely a fish out of water scenario, making jokes about how out of place New Yorkers like Vinny and Lisa are in smalltown Alabama, but as many of the jokes poke fun at them as do at Alabama. (One potential exception is the sloppy breakfast they receive, when Southern breakfasts are actually pretty delicious – of course the grits play into a plot point later. Grits are also pretty delicious, despite being the butt of jokes in many a film.)

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I can’t even count the number of times I laughed out loud in this film, from Lisa’s fixation on finding good Chinese food, to Vinny’s double-entendre-filled jail conversation with Stan (who thinks he’s a would-be prison rapist), to Vinny’s inability to get a good night’s sleep, to the final, highly satisfying courtroom resolution. Lisa’s tour de force on the stand is especially awesome. I enjoyed the heck out of this.

Stats and stuff…

1992, USA
directed by Jonathan Lynn, written by Dale Launer
starring Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei, Ralph Macchio, Fred Gwynne

I’m ranking all my Challenge films on Flickchart (as I do all the films I see), a movie-ranking website that asks you to choose your favorite between two movies until it builds a ranked list of your favorites. Just for fun, I will average out the rankings and keep a running tally of whose recommendations rank the highest. When you add a film to Flickchart, it pits it against films already on your chart to see where it should fall. Here’s how My Cousin Vinny entered my chart:

My Cousin Vinny beat Sunnyside Up
My Cousin Vinny beat Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
My Cousin Vinny beat Timecrimes
My Cousin Vinny lost to Lost in Translation
My Cousin Vinny beat Edward Scissorhands
My Cousin Vinny lost to Targets
My Cousin Vinny beat Headhunters
My Cousin Vinny lost to Mean Streets
My Cousin Vinny lost to Marie Antoinette (2006)
My Cousin Vinny lost to The Big Parade
My Cousin Vinny beat The Squid and the Whale
My Cousin Vinny lost to Dinner at Eight

Final ranking: #304 out of 3570 films on my chart (91st percentile)

It is now my #2 Jonathan Lynn film, my #1 Joe Pesci film, my #1 Marisa Tomei film, my #12 crime comedy, and my #4 film of 1992.

My Cousin Vinny was recommended by Hannah Keefer, a friend from the Flickcharters Group on Facebook.

A few quotes…

[language warning]

Vinny Gambini: I fit in better than you. At least I’m wearing cowboy boots.
Mona Lisa Vito: Oh yeah, you blend.

Mona Lisa Vito: I bet their Chinese food is terrible.

Judge Chamberlain Haller: All I ask from you is a very simple answer to a very simple question. There are only two ways to answer it: guilty or not guilty.
Vinny Gambini: But your honor, my clients didn’t do anything wrong.
Judge Chamberlain Haller: Once again, the communication process has broken down between us. It appears to me that you want to skip the arraignment process, go directly to trial, skip that, and get a dismissal. Well, I’m not about to revamp the entire judicial process just because you find yourself in the unique position of defending clients who say they didn’t do it.

Mona Lisa Vito: Imagine you’re a deer. You’re prancing along, you get thirsty, you spot a little brook, you put your little deer lips down to the cool clear water… BAM! A fuckin bullet rips off part of your head! Your brains are laying on the ground in little bloody pieces! Now I ask ya. Would you give a fuck what kind of pants the son of a bitch who shot you was wearing?

Mona Lisa Vito: [angry tone] What the fuck is going on here, Vinny? You fucking up this case or what?
Vinny Gambini: I explained it to you already, didn’t I? It’s a procedure. I’m learning all this as I go along. I’m bound to fuck up a little.
Mona Lisa: A little? You’ve been thrown in jail twice!

Vinny Gambini: [to the judge about his secondhand suit, which has an 18th-century look and is red] I bought a suit. You seen it. Now it’s covered in mud. This town doesn’t have a one hour cleaner so I had to buy a new suit, except the only store you could buy a new suit in has got the flu. Got that? The whole store got the flu so I had to get this in a second hand store. So it’s either wear the leather jacket, which I know you hate, or this. So, I wore this ridiculous thing for you.

Vinny Gambini: Well, perhaps the laws of physics cease to exist on your stove. Were these magic grits? I mean, did you buy them from the same guy who sold Jack his beanstalk beans?

A few more screenshots…

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