It’s backkkk! The Slope movie column, that is. As a reward for being forced to endure the summer dearth of TV and good cinema (or cinema of awards season quality), we’re starting off with some seriously great movies. And they’re not all “classic,” at least as far as the American Film Institute is concerned. We’re trying something new this semester—a mix of the oldies but goodies, and some recent gems that will no doubt have their day in the classics repertoire. So without further ado…
My Cousin Vinny (1992) takes new lawyer Vinny Gambini from New York and sends him to Alabama for his first court trial to defend his cousin Bill Gambini and his college friend Stan Rothenstein from an erroneous murder charge. Vinny will try to convince Judge Haller of his legal expertise, while battling run-ins with inane court procedure, a well-intentioned, but nagging girlfriend, a bar fight, a stuttering public defender, clothing snafus, and the natural “beauty” and landscape of Alabama and its citizens. Vinny’s an unlikely candidate to succeed, but his laser perceptions and misunderstood demeanor may work to his benefit in this legal dramedy rife with many a quotable quip.
I put this movie right up there with 12 Angry Men in terms of riveting films based on the legal system. Of course, legal dramas can get pretty boring—we’ve seen enough of that stuff on TV to be able to predict the plot twists with relative ease. But My Cousin Vinny, starring Joe Pesci (of GoodFellas fame) and Marisa Tomei (of Crazy, Stupid, Love fame) does something different—it takes the often-ridiculous rigmaroles of a trial and puts them at the center of what would ordinarily be a very serious movie about two youths—I mean yutes—charged with murder (one of these kids is Ralph Macchio, the karate kid. Well, not according to Barney Stinson). Despite the humor instigated by taking die hard New Yorkers and placing them clearly out of their element, the film is actually very accurate in its procedural depictions. It’s often cited as a common cultural example when trying to illustrate to people just getting involved in the law what their rights are and how a trial will work.
The cinematography is nothing ground breaking, but there’s a great scene in the courtroom when Vinny seems to have finally found his sea legs and is questioning a material witness á la To Kill a Mockingbird that is an absolute zinger in the acting and dialogue departments. Tomei brings her A-game throughout, clinching the case and the movie (she won Best Supporting Actress for her role in 1993), and Pesci has never been funnier. For an intriguing bit of humor on your Friday movie night, watch this and let the lifetime of quoting begin.