(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: My Cousin Vinny
Where You Can Stream It: Hulu
The Pitch: When two out-of-towners get booked in Alabama for a murder they didn’t commit, their only hope is a lawyer in the family: Vincent LaGuardia “Vinny” Gambini, a New Yorker who is clearly out of his depth. But as the trial progresses, Vinny proves to be a much better lawyer than anyone could imagine.
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: I’ve entered a “watch movies from the ’90s” phase of the quarantine, and when I saw My Cousin Vinny was streaming on Hulu, I thought, “Perfect.” And it was. This film really holds up – it’s still funny as hell, and it’s easy to get invested in the characters, all of whom are memorable in their own way. During the time I spent rewatching this, the rest of this nightmare real world ceased to exist and I was thrilled for the distraction.
Joe Pesci is more or less retired from acting, primarily because he got sick of being offered mobster roles. And watching My Cousin Vinny, it’s easy to see why: he deserved more than stereotyping. Sure, his Vinny here is a bit of a wiseguy, but he’s not some ultra-violent gangster. And while Pesci’s appearance doesn’t exactly scream “LEADING MAN!”, he carries this movie with ease. Of course, it helps that he’s backed-up by a game cast. The most notable is Marisa Tomei, playing Vinny’s girlfriend Mona Lisa Vito. Tomei won an Oscar for this role, and it’s easy to see why – she’s electric, rattling off her comedic lines with meticulous delivery all while never breaking that heavy New Yawwk accent.
But it’s not just Tomei shining in a supporting part. Fred Gwynne, Herman Munster himself, is damn-near perfect as the befuddled judge overseeing the murder trial. Ralph Macchio is likable as Vinny’s on-trial cousin. Lane Smith sinks his teeth into the role of the prosecutor, who, while a foil for Vinny, is never portrayed as a sneering villain. Even Bruce McGill shows up, sporting a wonderful movie mustache.
The main reason My Cousin Vinny works so well is that it takes all of its genres seriously. It’s not just a comedy, it’s also a mystery, and a courtroom story. And rather than just focus solely on one of these, Vinny‘s screenwriter, Dale Launer, gives attention to all three. As a result, we’re laughing at the jokes and we’re wrapped up in whether or not Vinny is going to get his shit together and win the trial. And in the end, you’ll wish Hollywood had done better by Joe Pesci. That people had offered him more scripts like this, and that maybe he would’ve stuck around on screen a lot longer. You also might even want a sequel. In fact, one was in development at one point, but Tomei dropped out.
Sure, they could’ve gone ahead and made a sequel without her, I suppose. But I’m glad they didn’t, because it just wouldn’t be the same. We need that Vinny/Lisa back-and-forth to make sparks fly – there’s a scene here where Tomei seduces Pesci by using technical terms while talking about tightening a faucet that looks dumb on paper but works so damn well on screen because of the way the actors play off each other.
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