My Cousin Vinny

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My Cousin Vinny
My-Cousin-Vinny-Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJonathan Lynn
Written byDale Launer
Produced by
Starring
CinematographyPeter Deming
Edited byStephen E. Rivkin
Music byRandy Edelman
Production
companies
  • Palo Vista Productions
  • Peter V. Miller Investment Corp.
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • March 13, 1992 (1992-03-13)
Running time
119 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$11 million
Box office$64.1 million[2]

My Cousin Vinny is a 1992 American comedy film directed by Jonathan Lynn, from a screenplay by Dale Launer. The film stars Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei, Mitchell Whitfield, Lane Smith, Bruce McGill, and Fred Gwynne in his final film appearance. It was distributed by 20th Century Fox and released on March 13, 1992.

The film deals with two young New Yorkers traveling through rural Alabama who are arrested and put on trial for a murder they did not commit and the comical attempts of a cousin, Vinny Gambini, a lawyer who had only recently passed the bar exam after five unsuccessful attempts, to defend them. Much of the humor comes from the fish-out-of-water interaction between the brash Italian-American New Yorkers (Vinny and his fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito) and the more reserved Southern townspeople.[3] Principal location of filming was Monticello, Georgia.[4]

My Cousin Vinny was a critical and financial success, with Pesci, Gwynne, and Tomei all praised for their performances. Tomei won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Attorneys have also lauded the film for its accurate depiction of court procedure and trial strategy.

Plot[edit]

Driving through Alabama in their metallic mint-green 1964 Buick Skylark convertible, Bill Gambini and Stan Rothenstein, college students from New York who just got scholarships to UCLA, shop at a Sac-O-Suds convenience store and accidentally shoplift a can of tuna. After they leave, the store clerk is robbed and killed, and Bill and Stan are arrested for the murder. Due to circumstantial evidence and a confession to the shoplifting that is misconstrued as one to the shooting, Bill is charged with first-degree murder, and Stan as an accessory. Bill's mother reminds him there is an attorney in the family: his cousin Vinny Gambini. Vinny travels there, accompanied by his fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito. Although willing to take the case, Vinny is a personal injury lawyer from Brooklyn, newly admitted to the bar and with no trial experience.

Vinny manages to fool the trial judge, Chamberlain Haller, that he is experienced enough for the case. His ignorance of basic courtroom procedures, dress code, and his abrasive attitude cause the judge to repeatedly hold him in contempt. Much to his clients' consternation, Vinny does not cross-examine any of the witnesses in the preliminary hearing. Except for lack of a murder weapon, it appears that the district attorney, Jim Trotter III, has a strong case. After Vinny's poor showing at the hearing, Stan fires him and uses the public defender, John Gibbons, and nearly convinces Bill to do the same. But in questioning the first witness, the public defender turns out to be extremely nervous, with a severe stutter, and his line of questioning actually assists the prosecution's case.

Despite his missteps, Vinny makes up for his inexperience with an aggressive and perceptive questioning style. When he cross-examines the first witness, he uses his newfound knowledge of the cooking time of grits to force him to admit that his perception of time may have been inaccurate, meaning he cannot corroborate the prosecution's timeline, and Bill and Stan's faith is restored. Stan fires the public defender and rehires Vinny, who proceeds to discredit the next two witnesses by questioning their ability to make a positive identification due to obstructions in their sightline and impaired vision.

On the trial's third day, Trotter produces a surprise witness, FBI analyst George Wilbur. Vinny immediately objects to the witness as Trotter failed to inform him properly ahead of time, but Haller overrules the objection. Wilbur testifies that the pattern and chemical analysis of the tire marks left at the crime scene are identical to the tires on Bill's Buick. Haller orders a lunch recess immediately after Wilbur's testimony. Vinny asks for a full day's continuance to properly prepare for cross-examination, but Haller denies the request. With only the lunch recess to prepare and unable to come up with a strong line of questioning, Vinny lashes out at Lisa, but then realizes that one of her photos holds the key to the case: the flat and even tire marks going over the curb reveal that Bill's car could not have been used for the getaway.

After requesting a records search from the local sheriff, Vinny drags an angry Lisa into court to testify as an expert witness, as she comes from a family of auto mechanics and has an encyclopedic knowledge of cars. During Vinny's questioning, Lisa testifies that only a car with an independent rear suspension and positraction could have made the tire marks, which rules out Bill's 1964 Buick Skylark. One model of car with these features is the similar-looking 1963 Pontiac Tempest. Because both Buick and Pontiac are owned by GM, the Pontiac Tempest was also available in metallic mint-green. Vinny recalls Wilbur, who confirms this information, effectively discrediting his own testimony. He then recalls the local sheriff, who testifies that two men who fit Bill and Stan's descriptions were just arrested in Georgia for driving a stolen metallic mint green Pontiac Tempest, and were in possession of a .357 magnum revolver which was the gun of the same caliber used to kill the clerk. After Vinny rests for the defense, Trotter dismisses all charges. The judge congratulates Vinny and, as they drive away, Vinny and Lisa bicker about their wedding plans.

Cast[edit]

Release[edit]

My Cousin Vinny was released in the United States on March 13, 1992.

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

With a budget of $11 million, My Cousin Vinny was more successful than anticipated, grossing $52,929,168 domestically and $11,159,384 internationally, bringing its overall worldwide total to $64,088,552.[2]

Critical response[edit]

My Cousin Vinny received generally positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 86%, based on 56 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."[5] On Metacritic the film has a score of 68 out of 100 based on reviews from 23 critics.[6] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.[7]

Roger Ebert of The Chicago-Sun Times gave My Cousin Vinny a mixed 2.5 stars out of a possible 4. He declared that despite Macchio's co-star billing the actor was given little to do, and the film seemed adrift until "lightning strikes" with the final courtroom scenes when Gwynne, Pesci and Tomei all gave humorous performances.[8]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Supporting Actress Marisa Tomei Nominated
Academy Awards[9][10] Best Supporting Actress Won
American Comedy Awards Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) Joe Pesci Won
Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) Marisa Tomei Nominated
Funniest Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture Fred Gwynne Nominated
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Actress in a Supporting Role Marisa Tomei Won
Best Original Screenplay Dale Launer Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[11] Best Supporting Actress Marisa Tomei Nominated
Most Promising Actress Marisa Tomei (also for Chaplin) Won
MTV Movie Awards Best Breakthrough Performance Marisa Tomei Won
Best Comedic Performance Joe Pesci Nominated

Legal accuracy[edit]

Director Jonathan Lynn has a law degree from Cambridge University,[12] and lawyers have praised the accuracy of My Cousin Vinny's depiction of courtroom procedure and trial strategy,[13] 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".[14] 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";[15] furthermore, criminal defenders, law professors, and other lawyers use the film to demonstrate rules of evidence, voir dire, relevance, and cross examination.[16][13][17][18]

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge Richard Posner praised My Cousin Vinny[19] as being:

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.

In "Ten Things Every Trial Lawyer Could Learn From Vincent La Guardia Gambini", District of South Carolina judge Joseph F. Anderson praised Vinny's courtroom methods as "a textbook example" of Irving Younger's "Ten Commandments of Cross-Examination", and wrote that the film predicted Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael (1999)'s ruling on the Daubert standard. He concluded that Lynn and scriptwriter Dale Launer "have given our profession a wonderful teaching tool while producing a gem of a movie that gives the public at large renewed faith in the common law trial and the adversarial system as the best way to determine the truth and achieve justice".[20] Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a 2019 decision stated, "In 1992, Vincent Gambini taught a master class in cross-examination.", and further extensively quoted from a cross-examination scene in the film.[21]

John Marshall Law School professor Alberto Bernabe wrote that "Vinny is terrible at the things we do teach in law school, but very good at the things we don't":[22]

[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,[23] but United States Senator John Kennedy told District Court nominee Matthew S. Petersen that having seen the film did not qualify one to be a federal judge during a disastrous 2017 hearing when Petersen could not answer basic legal questions.[24] 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.[25] In 2008 the ABA Journal ranked the film #3 on its list of the "25 Greatest Legal Movies",[10] and in 2010 ranked Pesci's character as #12 on its list of "The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch)".[26]

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 attempted 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.[12]

Sequels[edit]

Proposed film[edit]

In an interview on March 14, 2012, the film's screenwriter, Dale Launer, talked about a sequel he had written involving Vinny Gambini practicing law in England. Marisa Tomei dropped out. The studio hired another screenwriter to rework the script without Tomei's character. Eventually, the project was shelved.[27]

Novel series[edit]

In 2017, author Lawrence Kelter began a My Cousin Vinny novel series with Back to Brooklyn, which is intended to be in the spirit of The Thin Man series. With the setting updated to contemporary times, the series depicts the further cases of Vinny Gambini with Mona Lisa operating as his investigator.[28] After additionally writing a novelization of My Cousin Vinny alongside the first sequel, a third book, titled Wing and a Prayer, was published in August 2020.[29]

Album[edit]

Pesci later reprised the Vinny 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.[30]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "MY COUSIN VINNY (15)". British Board of Film Classification. December 24, 1991. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Fox, David J. (May 12, 1992). "Weekend Box Office 'Player,' 'Vinny' Show Strength". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  3. ^ Berry, Joanna. "My Cousin Vinny". Radio Times. Immediate Media Company Limited. Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  4. ^ "My Cousin Vinny Filming Locations". Road Trip Memories. Retrieved January 24, 2021.
  5. ^ "My Cousin Vinny". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 14, 2017.
  6. ^ "My Cousin Vinny". Metacritic.
  7. ^ "CinemaScore". Archived from the original on July 22, 2018. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 13, 1992). "My Cousin Vinny Movie Review & Film Summary (1992)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  9. ^ "The 65th Academy Awards (1993) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Archived from the original on November 9, 2014. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  10. ^ a b Brust, Richard (August 1, 2008). "The 25 Greatest Legal Movies". ABA Journal. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  11. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  12. ^ a b Farr, Nick (March 13, 2012). "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.
  13. ^ a b Tooher, Nora Lockwood (July 31, 2006). "The verdict is in: 'My Cousin Vinny' still the winner among criminal defense lawyers". Lawyers USA. Retrieved December 8, 2014.
  14. ^ Kennerly, Max (March 14, 2012). "Every Young Trial Lawyer Needs To Watch My Cousin Vinny". Litigation & Trial. Retrieved February 3, 2013.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Bergman, Paul (2003). "Teaching Evidence the "Reel" Way". Quinnipiac Law Review. 21: 973–992 – via escholarship.org.
  17. ^ "'My Cousin Vinny' Turns 25". Morning Edition. NPR. March 13, 2017. Retrieved February 17, 2019.
  18. ^ "Amy Coney Barrett's Notre Dame Students And Colleagues Weigh In On Possible Supreme Court Nominee". WBEZ. September 24, 2020. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  19. ^ Posner, Richard (2009). Law and Literature (3rd ed.). Harvard University Press. pp. 446–447. ISBN 9780674054417.
  20. ^ Anderson, Joseph F. Jr. (Summer 2016). "Ten Things Every Trial Lawyer Could Learn From Vincent La Guardia Gambini". Voir Dire. Retrieved February 17, 2019.
  21. ^ "Novato Health Center v. National Labor Relations Board, ___F.3d ___, No. 17-1221 (D.C. Cir. 2019) at pages 1, 11-12, 11 fn.5" (PDF). United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
  22. ^ Bernabe, Alberto (March 12, 2013). "My Cousin Vinny: a story about legal education". Torts Blog. Retrieved February 3, 2013.
  23. ^ "Supreme Court Justices Mull 'My Cousin Vinny'". Fox News. Associated Press. April 18, 2006. Archived from the original on May 16, 2015. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  24. ^ Hurley, Lawrence (December 18, 2017). "Trump judicial nominee withdraws from consideration". Reuters.
  25. ^ Turner, George (November 1, 1996). "Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies (review)". American Cinematographer. Retrieved August 29, 2012.
  26. ^ "The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch)". ABA Journal. August 2010. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  27. ^ Farr, Nick (March 14, 2012). "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.
  28. ^ Harring, Bruce (August 13, 2017). "Comedy Classic 'My Cousin Vinny' Updated By New Novel, 'Back To Brooklyn'". Deadline. Retrieved August 25, 2017.
  29. ^ Tomlin, Jimmy (August 12, 2019). "Author of 'My Cousin Vinny' sequel to speak to writers". The High Point Enterprise. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  30. ^ Gallucci, Michael. "Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You". AllMusic. Retrieved February 25, 2009.

External links[edit]