Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny.
My Cousin Vinny was a hit when it was released in 1992, but is really only remembered today as the movie for which Marisa Tomei won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. What really makes that memorable is that she won it for a comedic performance rather than a dramatic one. She's definitely a highlight, but the movie in general is funny, fairly charming and holds up pretty well nearly 20 years after its release.
Young Bill Gambini and Stan Rothenstein are driving from Brooklyn to California and decide to take the long southern back road route instead of the highway (it's a weak decision, but necessary for the setup). Shortly after visiting a convenience store in Alabama they are wrongfully arrested for the murder of the convenience store clerk. Unable to pay for an attorney, Bill's cousin Vinny, a newly minted lawyer who took six years to pass the Bar Exam, comes to their assistance, bringing his girlfriend with him.
Vinny, as played by Joe Pesci, is from Brooklyn. No, he is Brooklyn. Think every cliche you ever heard about Brooklyn and Vinny embodies it. Italian, strong accent, leather coat, gold jewelry and you know he has mob connections somewhere. His girlfriend, Mona Lisa Vito (Tomei) is equally as stereotypically Brooklyn.
The big city slicker coming to a small town filled with characters who spout homespun wisdom has been done to death in Hollywood and generally the writers pick one side or the other to highlight. Either the small town folk are all inbred idiots or the the city slicker is an asshole who learns that life would be better if only they slowed down and smelled the roses. For the most part, My Cousin Vinny manages to avoid that trap. While a lot of the jokes are fish out of water jokes, the townspeople and Vinny are shown to be different without insulting either side, or maybe I should say, by insulting both sides equally.
My biggest problem with this movie is that Joe Pesci, while he is very funny in the role, is far too old for this part and he looks it. He's 21 years older than Tomei and was nearly 50 here. Reportedly DeNiro and DeVito were both considered for the part, but both of them would have been too old as well. Apart from his age, Pesci does a good job, but the scenes between he and Tomei never ring true. Far better are his moments with Fred Gwynne (in his final role) as the judge. Their scenes together are some of the funniest in the film. It isn't so much that Pesci couldn't play the part, but the script should have acknowledged his age.
Tomei is cute and funny and her wardrobe alone deserved an award. Her part is fairly small though, and while she does a good job with it, if you didn't know she won an Oscar for it, you'd never guess it. I'm glad to see a comedy get an Oscar, but she never has that moment where you think, "Wow, she's amazing." Good? Definitely. Oscar worthy? Ehhh.
The movie also runs nearly two hours in length, which is a bit long for a comedy, but the pacing is so good, it doesn't really feel that long. Maybe there could have been a slightly tighter editing job, but it's not a major problem.
Cute and funny, My Cousin Vinny is one of those quintessentially 1990s movies, but it stands up pretty well today.
Photos © Copyright Twentieth Century Fox (1992)