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, written by Dale Launer, and produced by Launer and Paul Schiff. It stars Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, Marisa Tomei, Mitchell Whitfield, Lane Smith, Bruce McGill, and the final film appearance of Fred Gwynne. The film was distributed by 20th Century Fox and released on March 13, 1992.

Macchio and Whitfield play William Gambini and Stanley Rothenstein, two young New Yorkers who are arrested in Alabama and put on trial for a murder they did not commit. Unable to afford a lawyer, they are defended by Gambini's cousin Vinny Gambini (Pesci), newly admitted to the bar, who arrives with his fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito (Tomei). The clash between the brash Italian-American New Yorkers and the more reserved Southern townspeople[3] provide much of the film's humor. The principal location of filming was Monticello, Georgia.[4]

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

Plot[edit]

Driving through Alabama, Bill Gambini and Stan Rothenstein, college students from New York, shop at a convenience store. After they leave, the store clerk is robbed and killed. Due to circumstantial evidence, Bill is charged with first-degree murder and Stan as an accessory. Bill and Stan thought they were being busted after Bill accidentally forgot to pay for the can of tuna. Bill and Stan hire Bill's cousin, Vinny Gambini, a personal injury lawyer from Brooklyn. Vinny is newly admitted to the bar and has no trial experience. He arrives in Alabama with his fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito, who comes from a family of mechanics.

Vinny fools the trial judge, Chamberlain Haller, that he is experienced enough for the case. However, Haller repeatedly holds him in contempt for his abrasive attitude and ignorance of courtroom decorum. To the alarm of Bill and Stan, Vinny does not cross-examine any of the witnesses in the preliminary hearing. Though he lacks the murder weapon, 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. However, Gibbons's nerves and severe stutter assist the prosecution's case.

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

Trotter produces a surprise witness, the FBI analyst George Wilbur. Vinny objects, as Trotter failed to inform him 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 car. In cross-examination, Wilbur admits the tires on Bill's car are the most popular in America.

Haller orders a lunch recess after Wilbur's testimony. Vinny asks for a full day's continuance to properly prepare for cross-examination, but Haller refuses. With only the lunch recess to prepare and unable to prepare a line of questioning, Vinny lashes out at Lisa, but realizes that one of her photos holds the key to the case: the flat and even tire marks over the curb reveal that Bill's car could not have been used for the getaway.

Vinny drags an angry Lisa into court to testify as an expert witness on cars. 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 the same metallic mint green finish as Bill's car. Vinny recalls Wilbur, who confirms this information, discrediting his own testimony. Vinny recalls the local sheriff, who testifies that two men who fit Bill and Stan's descriptions have been arrested in Georgia for driving a stolen metallic mint green Pontiac Tempest, and were in possession of a gun of the same caliber used in the murder. Trotter dismisses all charges. The judge congratulates Vinny, and as they drive away, Vinny and Lisa bicker about their wedding plans.

Cast[edit]

Development[edit]

Screenwriter Dale Launer came up with the idea for My Cousin Vinny as a college student, after hearing about a lawyer who had finally passed the bar after their 13th attempt. Launer thought it would be funny to have someone traveling through the Southern United States run into legal trouble and end up being represented by that type of lawyer.[5] Launer did not develop the concept until after he had written a few successful screenplays including Ruthless People and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. He was inspired by the comedy of Sam Kinison, particularly his approach with hecklers, in developing Vinny, and he based the relationship between Vinny and his fiancée on two dating friends who would argue frequently.[5] Launer also took a road trip through the south in which he got stuck in the mud and had repairs to fix his car, which became part of the script. He met an assistant district attorney who became the basis of the character of Jim Trotter, including casting Lane Smith for the role.[5] He spent several sessions with an attorney to review the process of legal trials, and learned from him that much of criminal court proceedings are not taught in law school but come from practice, which served well for Vinny's character.[5]

For casting, the studio originally wanted Andrew Dice Clay for Vinny, but this did not work out. Other considerations included Danny DeVito, Peter Falk, Robert De Niro, and Jim Belushi, but save for De Niro and DeVito, none of these were the Italian American they were looking for. They eventually cast Joe Pesci, who had just finished Lethal Weapon 2, was finishing filming in Goodfellas, and was an ideal choice for the role.[5] For Mona Lisa, they had approached Lorraine Bracco and Carole Davis, but both had passed on the role. Director Jonathan Lynn auditioned several other actresses, but found Marisa Tomei when he was invited to the set of Oscar by John Landis, where Tomei had a minor part. While Fox wanted an actress with more fame, they agreed to Tomei.[5] Ben Stiller and Will Smith were considered for the roles of Bill and Stan but, in both cases, there was concern related to the incarceration of a Jewish and Black person in the South, and Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield were hired instead.[5]

Exterior filming was done near the town of Greensboro, Georgia; the exterior shots of the courthouse and the surrounding square were shot in Monticello, Georgia and the courthouse scenes were shot in a set in Covington, Georgia used for In the Heat of the Night.[5] The prison scenes were shot in a real, working prison and the prisoners appearing as extras were actual convicts.[6]

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]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 87%, based on 60 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."[7] On Metacritic the film has a score of 68 out of 100 based on reviews from 23 critics.[8] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.[9]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave My Cousin Vinny 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.[10] Ebert's television partner, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, liked the film more, singling out Dale Launer's screenplay for praise.[11]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[12][13] Best Supporting Actress Marisa Tomei 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
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[14] 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

Continuing reputation[edit]

Despite the good-but-not-great initial reviews, My Cousin Vinny is generally considered to have held up as one of the most remembered and watched movies of the 1990s. The movie performed well in home video sales and rentals (originally VHS, and eventually DVD) and received frequent play on cable television. The film's catchier quotes became well-known as well.[15]

One element that aged somewhat awkwardly was Austin Pendleton's role as a stuttering and ineffective public defender. Pendleton suffered from stuttering in his childhood before overcoming it; during filming he did not enjoy dredging up bad memories from his teenage years and, afterward, he was not pleased to be publicly associated with the character. In a 2022 interview, he said that he felt the role nearly ended his career, and, after receiving angry letters from stutterers, said he regretted agreeing to perform the role at all. Casting director David Rubin said that Pendleton's scenes, while funny, probably would have been changed significantly in a newer movie.[15]

Legal accuracy[edit]

Director Jonathan Lynn has a law degree from Cambridge University,[16] and lawyers have praised the accuracy of My Cousin Vinny's depiction of courtroom procedure and trial strategy,[17] 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".[18] 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";[19] furthermore, criminal defenders, law professors, and other lawyers use the film to demonstrate rules of evidence, voir dire, relevance, and cross examination.[20][17][21][22]

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge Richard Posner praised My Cousin Vinny[23] 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 the 1999 Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael 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".[24] In a 2019 decision, Merrick Garland, then the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, wrote "In 1992, Vincent Gambini taught a master class in cross-examination.", and further extensively quoted from a cross-examination scene in the film.[25]

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":[26]

[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,[27] 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 his failed 2017 confirmation hearing.[28] 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.[29] In 2008 the ABA Journal ranked the film #3 on its list of the "25 Greatest Legal Movies",[13] and in 2010 ranked Pesci's character as #12 on its list of "The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch)".[30]

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.[16]

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.[31]

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.[32] 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.[33]

Album[edit]

Pesci 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.[34]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "My Cousin Vinny". British Board of Film Classification. December 24, 1991. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Fox, David J. (12 May 1992). "Weekend Box Office 'Player,' 'Vinny' Show Strength". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
  3. ^ Berry, Joanna. "My Cousin Vinny". Radio Times Limited. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  4. ^ "My Cousin Vinny Filming Locations". Road Trip Memories. Retrieved 24 January 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Greene, Andy (March 7, 2022). "'What Is a Yute?': An Oral History of 'My Cousin Vinny'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  6. ^ Audio commentary section from the DVD/Blu-Ray edition
  7. ^ "My Cousin Vinny". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 14, 2017.
  8. ^ "My Cousin Vinny". Metacritic.
  9. ^ "CinemaScore: My Cousin Vinny". Archived from the original on July 22, 2018. Retrieved September 11, 2019.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 13, 1992). "My Cousin Vinny Movie Review & Film Summary (1992)". rogerebert.com. Retrieved September 9, 2019.
  11. ^ Siskel, Gene (March 12, 1992). "The Verdict Is In: Sharp Writing Carries 'Vinny'". Chicago Tribune.
  12. ^ "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.
  13. ^ a b Brust, Richard (1 August 2008). "The 25 Greatest Legal Movies". ABA Journal. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  14. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  15. ^ a b Green, Andy (March 7, 2022). "'What Is a Yute?': An Oral History of 'My Cousin Vinny'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved May 6, 2023.
  16. ^ a b Farr, Nick (13 March 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.
  17. ^ a b Tooher, Nora Lockwood (31 July 2006). "The verdict is in: 'My Cousin Vinny' still the winner among criminal defense lawyers". Lawyers USA. Retrieved December 8, 2014.
  18. ^ Kennerly, Max (14 March 2012). "Every Young Trial Lawyer Needs To Watch My Cousin Vinny". Litigation & Trial. Retrieved February 3, 2013.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Bergman, Paul (2003). "Teaching Evidence the "Reel" Way". Quinnipiac Law Review. 21: 973–992 – via escholarship.org.
  21. ^ "'My Cousin Vinny' Turns 25". Morning Edition. NPR. 13 March 2017. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  22. ^ "Amy Coney Barrett's Notre Dame Students And Colleagues Weigh In On Possible Supreme Court Nominee". WBEZ. September 24, 2020. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
  23. ^ Posner, Richard (2009). Law and Literature (3rd ed.). Harvard University Press. pp. 446–447. ISBN 9780674054417.
  24. ^ Anderson, Joseph F. Jr. (Summer 2016). "Ten Things Every Trial Lawyer Could Learn From Vincent La Guardia Gambini". Voir Dire. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  25. ^ "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 6 March 2019.
  26. ^ Bernabe, Alberto (12 March 2013). "My Cousin Vinny: a story about legal education". Torts Blog. Retrieved February 3, 2013.
  27. ^ "Supreme Court Justices Mull 'My Cousin Vinny'". Fox News. Associated Press. 18 April 2006. Archived from the original on May 16, 2015. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  28. ^ Hurley, Lawrence (18 December 2017). "Trump judicial nominee withdraws from consideration". Reuters.
  29. ^ Turner, George (1 November 1996). "Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies (review)". American Cinematographer. Retrieved August 29, 2012.
  30. ^ "The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch)". ABA Journal. August 2010. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  31. ^ Farr, Nick (14 March 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.
  32. ^ Harring, Bruce (13 August 2017). "Comedy Classic 'My Cousin Vinny' Updated By New Novel, 'Back To Brooklyn'". Deadline. Retrieved 25 August 2017.
  33. ^ Tomlin, Jimmy (12 August 2019). "Author of 'My Cousin Vinny' sequel to speak to writers". The High Point Enterprise. Retrieved 12 August 2019.
  34. ^ Gallucci, Michael. "Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You". AllMusic. Retrieved February 25, 2009.

External links[edit]