My Cousin Vinny
|My Cousin Vinny|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jonathan Lynn|
|Produced by||Dale Launer
|Written by||Dale Launer|
|Music by||Randy Edelman|
|Edited by||Stephen E. Rivkin|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$64.1 million|
My Cousin Vinny is a 1992 American comedy film written by Dale Launer and directed by Jonathan Lynn. The film stars Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei, Mitchell Whitfield, Lane Smith, Bruce McGill, and Fred Gwynne. This was Fred Gwynne's last film appearance before his death on July 2, 1993.
The film deals with two young New Yorkers traveling through rural Alabama who are put on trial for a murder they did not commit, and the comical attempts of a cousin, Vincent Gambini, a newly minted lawyer, to defend them. Much of the humor comes from the contrasting personalities of the brash Italian-American New Yorkers, Vinny and his fiancée Mona Lisa, and the more reserved Southern townspeople.
Lawyers have praised the comedy's realistic depiction of courtroom procedure and trial strategy. Pesci, Gwynne and Tomei received critical praise for their performances, and Tomei won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Billy Gambini (Ralph Macchio) and Stan Rothenstein (Mitchell Whitfield), students from New York, are driving through Alabama. At a convenience store they accidentally shoplift a can of tuna. After they leave, the store clerk is shot and killed, and Billy and Stan are arrested in connection with the murder. Due to circumstantial evidence and a confession to shoplifting misconstrued as one to the shooting, Billy is charged with murder, and Stan as an accessory. The pair call Billy's mother, who tells her son that there is an attorney in the family: his cousin Vinny (Joe Pesci). Vincent LaGuardia Gambini travels there, accompanied by his fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei). Although he is willing to take the case, Vinny is a personal injury lawyer from Brooklyn, New York, newly admitted to the bar on his sixth attempt, and with no trial experience.
Vinny manages to fool the trial judge, Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne), about being experienced enough for the case, in a game of cat-and-mouse that progresses throughout the film. His ignorance of basic court procedures and dress code, as well as his abrasive and disrespectful attitude cause the judge to hold him in repeatedly in contempt. Much to his clients' consternation, Vinny does not cross-examine any of the witnesses in the probable cause hearing. Except for the murder weapon, it appears that the district attorney, Jim Trotter III (Lane Smith), has an airtight case that will inevitably lead to a conviction at the trial. After Vinny's poor showing at the hearing, Stan fires him and uses the public defender, John Gibbons (Austin Pendleton), and nearly convinces Billy to do the same. Vinny asks for one more chance to prove himself.
The trial then opens with Vinny representing his cousin and Gibbons representing Stan. Despite some further missteps, including a gaudy secondhand cinema usher's uniform (an improvement on his bike leathers) and sleeping through Trotter's opening statement, Vinny shows that he can make up for his ignorance and inexperience with an aggressive and perceptive questioning style. The public defender is unprepared, lacks aggressiveness, and has a debilitating stammer, but Vinny quickly and comprehensively discredits the testimony of the first witness (Maury Chaykin), a rebuttal revolving around grits. Billy's faith is restored, Stan fires the public defender, and Vinny finally gets some sleep while serving his (last) contempt charge in jail.
Vinny's cross-examinations of the remaining two eyewitnesses are similarly effective, but on the trial's third day, Trotter produces a surprise witness, FBI analyst George Wilbur (James Rebhorn), who testifies that the pattern and chemical analysis of the tire marks left at the crime scene are identical to the tires on Billy's Buick Skylark. With only the lunch recess to prepare his cross-examination and unable to come up with a strong line of questioning, Vinny quarrels with Lisa over her photographs. Shortly after the trial resumes, Vinny realizes that one of her photos holds the key to the case: the flat and even tire marks going over the curb reveal that Billy's car could not have been used for the getaway. They could only have been made by a car with an independent rear suspension and positraction; Billy's Skylark does not possess these features, but the similar-looking Pontiac Tempest would.
After requesting a records search from the local sheriff (Bruce McGill), Vinny drags Lisa into court to testify as an expert witness. (Both Vinny and Lisa had worked as mechanics in her father's garage.) During Vinny's questioning, Lisa comes to the same conclusion and testifies that the only vehicle that could plausibly make the escape and be mistaken for Billy's 1964 Skylark is a 1963 Pontiac Tempest with the same color and tires. Vinny re-calls George Wilbur, who confirms this. Vinny then re-calls the local sheriff, who has finished the records search. The sheriff testifies that two men who also fit Billy and Stan's descriptions were just arrested in another county for driving a stolen Pontiac Tempest, and were in possession of a gun of the same caliber used to kill the clerk. The defeated Trotter moves to dismiss all charges, and the film ends with kudos trading and Vinny and Lisa bantering about their future wedding plans.
- Joe Pesci as Vincent LaGuardia “Vinny” Gambini
- Marisa Tomei as Mona Lisa Vito
- Ralph Macchio as Bill Gambini
- Mitchell Whitfield as Stan Rothenstein
- Fred Gwynne as Judge Chamberlain Haller
- Lane Smith as Jim Trotter III
- Bruce McGill as Sheriff Dean Farley
- Austin Pendleton as John Gibbons
- Chris Ellis as J.T.
- James Rebhorn as George Wilbur
- Maury Chaykin as Sam Tipton
- Paulene Myers as Constance Riley
- Raynor Scheine as Ernie Crane
- Michael Simpson as Neckbrace
- Lou Walker as Grits Cook
- Kenny Jones as Jimmy Willis
The courthouse scenes were filmed on a set based on the courthouse in the town square of Monticello, Georgia, which is in Jasper County, Georgia. Although the movie was set in Beechum County, Alabama (a fictitious place, as all of the places named in the movie), near the end of the movie, Sheriff Farley (played by veteran actor Bruce McGill of "Animal House" fame), actually mentions Jasper County, Georgia by name. 
The film received generally positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 84%, based on 51 reviews. The site's consensus reads, "The deft comic interplay between Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei helps to elevate My Cousin Vinny's predictable script, and the result is a sharp, hilarious courtroom comedy."
With a budget of $11 million, My Cousin Vinny was more successful than anyone had anticipated, grossing $52,929,168 domestically and $11,159,384 in the foreign markets, bringing its overall total to $64,088,552.
Director Jonathan Lynn has a law degree from Cambridge University, and lawyers have praised the accuracy of My Cousin Vinny's depiction of courtroom procedure and trial strategy, with one stating that "[t]he movie is close to reality even in its details. Part of why the film has such staying power among lawyers is because, unlike, say, A Few Good Men, everything that happens in the movie could happen—and often does happen—at trial". One legal textbook discusses the film in detail as an "entertaining [and] extremely helpful introduction to the art of presenting expert witnesses at trial for both beginning experts and litigators", and criminal defenders, law professors, and other lawyers use the film to demonstrate voir dire and cross examination.
particularly rich in practice tips: how a criminal defense lawyer must stand his ground against a hostile judge, even at the cost of exasperating the judge, because the lawyer's primary audience is the jury, not the judge; how cross-examination on peripheral matters can sow serious doubts about a witness's credibility; how props can be used effectively in cross-examination (the tape measure that demolishes one of the prosecution's eyewitnesses); how to voir dire, examine, and cross-examine expert witnesses; the importance of the Brady doctrine ... how to dress for a trial; contrasting methods of conducting a jury trial; and more.
A professor stated that "Vinny is terrible at the things we do teach in law school, but very good at the things we don't":
[How to] interview clients, to gather facts, to prepare a theory of a case, to negotiate, to know when to ask a question and when to remain quiet, to cross examine a witness forcefully (but with charm) in order to expose the weaknesses in their testimony
United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cited My Cousin Vinny as an example of the principle that a client can choose his own lawyer. The authors of Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies (2006) gave the film its highest rating along with several films based on real trials, such as Judgment at Nuremberg and Breaker Morant. In 2008 the ABA Journal ranked the film #3 on its list of the "25 Greatest Legal Movies", and in 2010 ranked Pesci's character as #12 on its list of "The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch)".
Lynn, an opponent of capital punishment, believes that the film expresses an anti-death penalty message without "preaching to people", and demonstrates the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. Lawyers find the film appealing, according to the director, because "there aren't any bad guys", with the judge, prosecutor, and Vinny all seeking justice. Lynn stated that both he and Launer sought to accurately depict the legal process in Vinny, favorably comparing it to Trial and Error, for which he could not make what he believed were necessary changes.
In an interview on March 14, 2012, the film's screenwriter, Dale Launer, talked about a sequel he had written involving Vincent Gambini practicing law in the United Kingdom. Marisa Tomei dropped out. The studio hired another screenwriter to rework the script without Tomei's character. Eventually, the project was shelved.
Pesci later reprised the Vincent LaGuardia Gambini character for his 1998 album Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You, which contains the song "Yo, Cousin Vinny." The album cover portrays Pesci in a red suit similar to the usher suit he wore in the film.
- Farr, Nick (2012-03-13). "Abnormal Interviews: My Cousin Vinny Director Jonathan Lynn". Abnormal Use: An Unreasonably Dangerous Products Liability Blog. Gallivan, White & Boyd, P.A. Retrieved June 8, 2012.
- Fox, David J. (1992-05-12). "Weekend Box Office 'Player,' 'Vinny' Show Strength". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-10-27.
- Brust, Richard (2008-08-01). "The 25 Greatest Legal Movies". ABA Journal. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
- Tooher, Nora Lockwood (2006-07-31). "The verdict is in: 'My Cousin Vinny' still the winner among criminal defense lawyers". Lawyers USA. Retrieved December 8, 2014. (subscription required (. ))
- Kennerly, Max (2012-03-14). "Every Young Trial Lawyer Needs To Watch My Cousin Vinny". Litigation & Trial. Retrieved February 3, 2013.
- Smith, Fred Chris; Bace, Rebecca Gurley (2003). Guide to Forensic Testimony, A: The Art and Practice of Presenting Testimony As An Expert Technical Witness. Addison-Wesley. pp. 1, 4–13. ISBN 9780201752793.
- Posner, Richard (2009). Law and Literature (3rd ed.). Harvard University Press. pp. 446–447. ISBN 9780674054417.
- Bernabe, Alberto (2013-03-12). "My Cousin Vinny: a story about legal education". Torts Blog. Retrieved February 3, 2013.
- "Supreme Court Justices Mull 'My Cousin Vinny'". Fox News. Associated Press. 2006-04-18. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
- Turner, George (1996-11-01). "Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies (review)". American Cinematographer. Retrieved August 29, 2012.
- "The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch)". ABA Journal. August 2010. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
- Farr, Nick (2012-03-14). "Abnormal Interviews: My Cousin Vinny Screenwriter/Co-Producer Dale Launer". Abnormal Use: An Unreasonably Dangerous Products Liability Blog. Gallivan, White & Boyd, P.A. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
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- Transcript of the trial proceedings