Many a films end up standing the test of time because of their earnest simplicity and carefree attitude. When set up against other like-minded works they often do not compare, however, it is something about their moment and a perfect combination of factors that allows for them to be absolutely mesmerizing even twenty years detached from their original inception, at least this is the case with My Cousin Vinny, a film that has more heart and sincerity than most pictures and manages to make viewers feel totally totally embracing towards the otherwise impish and virulent Joe Pesci. I would venture to guess that much of the success and timelessness associated with this classic finds its place in the every popular fish-out-of-water narrative, particularly when the individual who is in the new setting is not necessarily of a level of cultural superiority, but is equally absurd for a different set of reasons. It is a film that is firstly concerned with accruing a set of well-earned laughs and rolled eyes, but also exudes a certain degree of consideration for the underdog story, one in which the desire for the American Dream to be obtain proves quite challenging, not as a result of an individual's own lack of self-direction or motivation, but simply because a set of obstacles exist that are in no way logical or fair. A film like My Cousin Vinny works, and continues to work two decades later because it is a familiar situation, all be it most people will not find themselves in the situation of having to defend a group of "yuffs" for a wrongful murder accusation, it is quite true that many have found themselves defending or justifying actions in front of a person or group in which they are clearly the one in the right, despite facing a very determined and detrimental mob rule. Perhaps some of the humor in My Cousin Vinny does predicate it self on accidentally topical material and Joe Pesci certainly could not deliver this role today, but there is something poetically probable and indirectly ironic of the scenario of a Yankee being forced to maintain justice in a backwards Southern town that is and always will be film perfection.
My Cousin Vinny begins with two young guys making their way through the backroads of Alabama on their way from a tough semester at college, the boys Billy (Ralph Macchio) and Stan (Mitchell Whitfield) stop off in a convenience store to buy a variety of different cheap foods to placate their hunger during the trip and it is is with his hands full that Billy accidentally pockets a can of tuna without paying for it, leading to a cop pulling them over only moments later. Assuming that he has only been arrested for petty theft, Billy admits that "he did it" when the officers ask of his guilt, yet when Billy discovers that they are actually being pinned for a murder that happens moments after they leave the entire situation changes and the two kids attempt to contact everyone they know with the hopes that they can spring bail, unfortunately, the hefty price tag of $200,000 means they must call in a lawyer and the only person free at the moment is Billy's cousin Vinny (Joe Pesci), whose credentials are less than stellar, in fact, it is not certain whether the new lawyer has even passed his bar. Along with Vinny comes Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) a foul-mouthed, young woman who possesses a surprising expertise in cars, as she has worked in a mechanics shop her entire life. Vinny enter into the world of Alabama law only to realize that the minutia of procedural work, as well as the less than welcoming traditions of the town. Of course, much of the narrative also revolves around Vinny and Mona attempting to navigate a town whose traditions and simplistic way of thinking are somewhat frustrating, particularly considering the incessant noise and distractions occurring at all hours in the town, although Vinny is from New York so this plot point seems a little unusual. Regardless, Vinny continues to face insurmountable odds as the judge often rules against the northerner simply out of spite, while the jury clearly sides with local favoritism, yet when with the help of Mona, Vinny is able to provide the jury and the judge with the perfect set of evidence to prove his clients innocence the prosecution drops the case and the who gang flees from the town back to normalcy, although Vinny has certainly gained the respect of his peers and has successfully won a case in the process.
For a film that is set in The South, and involves the acting of Joe Pesci, My Cousin Vinny is considerably poignant on its advocation of challenging tradition and undermining normalcy in the face of obtaining truth. While the film is in no way a hearkening back to the civil rights era, one cannot ignore that the two young men in question for a murder in this film are of Jewish and Italian-American identities respectively, two groups whose presence during the sixties freedom rides cannot be ignored. Yet, the town in which the case is to be held does not appear to suffer from any surface racism, as the African-American and white community seem to intermingle just fine within the narrative, as is reflective of the jury in which the trial chooses, although anybody familiar with such towns in the rural south can attest to the performative elements at play in such a situation, yet for the sake of this film it is not a racial issue, it is purely a distrust of those not from their world, paired problematically with a death and a desire to find a culprit. Yet it is not simply the issue of entrenched social mores, as they relate to things like "appropriate dress" for a courtroom, or is it about the language of litigation, it has so much more to do with the assumption of who can be a lawyer. The prosecutor in the film Jim Trotter (Lane Smith) represents a traditional, genteel southern man whose whole family is tied to law and, as such, has nearly unquestioned sway in the towns affairs, both legally and perhaps politically. Vinny represents a by-the-boot-straps young man whose career in law is less prestigious and certainly not part of some lineage, therefore, making him an outsider to the process and, as such, a victim to mocking and mistreatment. This separation is two-fold when it comes to Mona who even Vinny deems as being irrelevant and useless when it comes to assuring the case is a success, yet in a last scene of challenging the tradition, Vinny, as well as the community, are forced to take notice of a woman's very real ability to serve as a key witness and an expert in something traditionally associated with the man's realm.
Key Scene: The grits scene is quite good and a classic moment in comedy, and is, assuredly, the moment that sets up the jokes for the rest of the film, not to mention the inspiration for Vinny's turn of events within the courtroom.
This movie is cheap enough to obtain and well-worth having in your collection, buying a DVD will suffice and should make for a great viewing experience.