My Cousin Vinny is certainly an odd film to review. It’s a comedy, which may not exactly be the issue, but it certainly has less “themes” or “underlying ideas” than most films I critique. But however mainstream it is, My Cousin Vinny certainly has a lot in it to talk about. It is the story of two recent New York college grads taking a road trip to the American south, where they accidentally become prime suspects in the murder of a store clerk. They didn’t do it, obviously, but the funny does not arrive until their cousin Vinny, a first time Brooklyn lawyer, comes down to plead their case. Comedy ensues after his hip New York ways clash with the apparent “backwoods” of the American south.
However, Vinny has one trick up his sleeve, he can argue for longer and better than anyone in the courtroom. Can he save his nephews from a murder charge, or will his inexperience prove to be his downfall? Obviously the film is less grandiose than what I just described, but the interesting plot is fleshed out by some great comedic performances by Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei, in addition to some truly momentous bouts of hilarity.
For starters, Joe Pesci is fantastic as the eponymous “cousin Vinny”, bringing great comedic timing to a role unlike many I’ve seen him in. I usually associate Pesci with the short tempered Italian he played in two Scorsese masterpieces, Goodfellas and Raging Bull, so to see him doing comedy is a bit of a shock. However, my fears were unnecessary, as he is an excellent comedian. He channels his persona into the loveable, if impolite, Vinny. His unorthodox methods in the courtroom as well as some great moments with Tomei prove for some genuine comedy, and Pesci was uniquely suited for this role.
However, the film has two great assets, and the other is Marisa Tomei. While Tomei may be pretty popular these days, in the early nineties she was an unknown. Indeed, her performance in this film won over many fans, including the Academy, who gifted her with an Oscar for this film. While she does give a sharp-witted, Brooklyn-accented, fiery comedic performance, she did beat out some other truly stellar roles in one of the most famous upset wins in history. However, looking at the confidence she exudes in this performance, especially her courtroom scene, it is not hard to see why she did win.
While Ralph Macchio, Mitchell Whitfield and Fred Gwynne give excellent performances as well, they are rather outshined by the two leads. However, in order for the film to work, it needed a good script, which it has. While I imagine writing a comedy script is difficult, the film has a genuinely interesting plot, as well as some great gags. There is one scene in particular that could be described as “raucously funny”. Though I won’t get into specifics, I will say that in it, Joe Pesci is confused for a prison inmate, and hilarity ensues.
The cinematography and score are thankless, but they needn't have much spark. For a film of this genre, they are adequate enough. The direction of Jonathan Lynn is workmanlike. Many say comedy films don’t require a director’s imprint for the film to be a success, and given Lynn’s anonymous direction I’d say they would be correct. My Cousin Vinny is good for a laugh, but other than that it hold the ubiquitous designation of being simply average.