Gemma: I try and I try to get over it, but this is still my favorite movie.
Rasha: You should not try to get over it. It’s basically perfect. The only things I could think to criticize about this movie are really the things that aren’t in it, but I really enjoy all the things in the movie. It stands up well to the test of time.
G: Doesn’t it?!? I mean, thinking about blogging it I noticed contemporary critiques, like it takes place in the magical post-racial society that so many early-90s movies did, and yet…it’s magical.
R: It had been so long since I’ve seen My Cousin Vinny that I came to it ready to be annoyed by the caricatures of southerners, but aside from a couple of particularly bad attempts at Southern accents, I wasn’t bothered. And even those bothered me much less because Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei are hamming up their accents, too.
G: Well, yes. I imagined some of the Southern accents were terrible, but everyone’s supposed to be slightly cartoonish and then go beneath it. It’s interesting, though, because when I first saw this I was about eleven years old and still ensconced in my assumption of NYC cultural superiority, and I thought that was what the movie was about. As I aged, I realized it was not about that at all, and I liked it even better.
R: Yeah, it’s really not what the movie is about, and though I may be wary of the genre of big city vs. small town South, what this movie presents us with is ultimately the cityslickers who are the hillbillies of New York encountering the upper class of a small Southern town, and both sides have expectations about the uncouthness of each other.
G: Precisely! It presents itself as a movie about big city vs. small town South, but it’s about class practices and expectations.
R: Yeah, I’d agree. Ralph Macchio and his terrified high-class New York friend whose parents are in Chile make all these comments about how scary the South is and how likely they are to be railroaded at trial, an expectation that is both confirmed and undone during the course of the movie. (ETA: I just found out that Will Smith had been considered for the role of Ralph’s friend/co-defendant).
G: The brilliance of this movie, to me, is that it doesn’t have an antagonist. So much turns on the scene where Bill and Stan are in their cell after listening to the witnesses and realizing that it’s not a conspiracy, that the witnesses against them genuinely think they’re right. And THAT leads to an even more important argument in today’s political climate: that it’s entirely possible for good intentions to have results that are wrong and damaging.
R: Dude, the early scene where Macchio and his buddy are pulled over by the state trooper who exits his vehicle and promptly loads and locks his rifle…felt uncomfortably contemporary. I guess I wonder if here is a moment where some of the New York cultural superiority seeps through in the film, though.
G: It is, to a degree. But one could also argue that it doesn’t happen to them in NYC because they aren’t outsiders to the culture of the NYC cops. But even so.
R: Or maybe, more accurately, the scene shows the intersection of class and race privilege and that NYC disdain for southerners. Like, these guys are surprised that a cop is pulling a gun on them at a stop? I think maybe not all New Yorkers would be surprised.
R: But again, I feel like this is something that is less a fault of the film and more about having passably white Italian and Jewish protagonists. Anyway, I want to hear what you loved about the film, as a young person and now–there are so many great scenes!
G: This movie does hold the last vestiges of Italian-Americans not perceiving themselves as part of “whiteness,” but you’re still right.
R: Yeah, that’s totally one of the things I love about the movie!
G: I’ve listed two of the things I love about this movie already: the bait-and-switch of being a movie about socioeconomic class, and the lack of antagonists. Then: There’s one I missed when I first saw it at eleven, but adore now–the undercutting of Joe Pesci. For me, this was how I first came to know Joe Pesci, because at eleven I hadn’t seen Goodfellas or any of his terrifying films. This is him for me. But he was undercutting his own image as an actor in a truly brilliant way, and I adore that.
R: Yeah, he’s basically doing a cover of his own role in Goodfellas. Though Lourdes knows I wish he hadn’t had such a distracting face-lift before this movie.
G: Again, this is the image of him I carry. But I always wish that, about everyone.
R: Joe Pesci’s lip-pursing skills are on such fabulous display in this film. And the early scene with Vinny and Stan in the jail cell is both classic Laurel-and-Hardy style “Who’s on First” humor and also still very funny.
G: Agreed! There are no superfluous scenes in this film, no superfluous moments. Everything comes back and comes together. A scene like the first conflict-to-love scene with the faucet, putting on full display Pesci and Tomei’s counterintuitive and crazy awesome chemistry, comes back to construct the ending. This is how they communicate, and how they find joy. And it is that finding of joy, in the love of two outsiders, that will save the day. That combined with specialized knowledge from a working-class life.
R: As I understand it, the film is still used in classrooms to teach trial procedure. Both iterations of that scene with the two of them is delightful. I mean, there are reasons Marisa Tomei won an Oscar for this film. What a plum role to reinvent yourself in! Should more actors use monologues from this film in auditioning for parts? Or are the roles too iconic?
G: I used to try to recite the deer monologue when I was eleven. A lot. I’m sure it was both disarming and weirdly charming. And I think this was her first film role.
R: I mean, she’s reinventing herself from the young TV star. Watching this again, I was struck by the fact that Mona Lisa is really more like 35 years old in the script. There’s no way Marisa Tomei’s biological clock was stomping at that point, but she inhabits and sells the character of a woman who is actually much older than Tomei, who looks more like the mid-life crisis tart than the steadfast paramour of a struggling Vinny. Also, if we lived in the same city, I’d suggest that we do Vinny and Lisa as a couple costume. You can be either one you want. We could switch halfway through the night!
G: OH HELLZ YES. WE NEED TO GET TOGETHER ONE HALLOWEEN JUST FOR THAT.
R: Game on.
G: For the sake of height, I think I’m Vinny.
R: I do covet his leather suit jacket.
G: I covet like half the outfits in this film. His ties?!?!
The bedazzled dress??!
R: I don’t remember them well enough. The bedazzled dress would look great on you.
G: Yeah, his ties are something you don’t notice until your tenth viewing or so.
R: I love that you know this.
G: But they are awesome. There are portions of this movie I could recite, but genuinely not all of it, because I honestly do notice something new every time.
R: I think Ralph Macchio probably expected this film to do more for his career.
G: Awww, poor Ralph. But if it means we got Marisa Tomei as the breakout star, it was worth the sacrifice.
R: She and the screech owl were my favorites. Also, I will go on record: Any film whose plot turns on the amount of time it takes to cook grits belongs in the pantheon.
G: Indeed. And as someone from New York City who loves to learn and to argue, there is really no more romantic movie out there. I have one last thing I want to say, but you can move it earlier if that’s a good ending: One more element of the movie is that you don’t have to be virtuous to be right or do right things. Vinny’s success is predicated on deception necessary for survival, and the movie knows how to distinguish between that and actual injustice. I like that.
R: I have to add: a female character who knows everything there is to know about cars? Swoon. May Lisa Vito be your patron saint in your search for a car.