November 2013 Bar Bulletin
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November 2013 Bar Bulletin

'My Cousin Vinny' - A Classic in Another Sense

By Brian Brunkow


The 1992 film "My Cousin Vinny" is widely regarded as a cinematic treasure and one of the top artistic creations of all time. Well, maybe not, but it's a fun movie that every lawyer and law student should revisit on a rainy weekend afternoon.

On the surface, "My Cousin Vinny" is a "fish out of water" comedy where two college kids from Brooklyn get swept up as murder suspects while driving through rural Alabama. After they stop at the ol' "Sac-O-Suds" convenience store, the clerk is killed in a robbery and the kids were the last people witnessed at the scene of the crime. Case closed, right?

Not so fast. Enter Cousin Vinny (Joe Pesci), a car mechanic turned night student turned new lawyer "of almost six weeks" and the story begins. (Please disregard the small fact that Vinny is newly licensed in New York and not in Alabama; no doubt he was admitted pro hac vice in a scene not included in the film).

"My Cousin Vinny" was actually intended and cleverly written to raise questions about capital punishment and class system in the American judicial system. As you might recall, there really is no antagonist character - not the prosecutor, sheriff, judge or eyewitnesses. They're all basically good people trying to do the right thing within an imperfect system.

The film's antagonist is the judicial system itself, where well-intentioned people make mistakes. And in this case, those mistakes might send two innocent kids, Billy and Stan, to the electric chair. That is, unless newly sworn-in lawyer (after six attempts at the bar exam), Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, Esq., can pull a rabbit out of his ah ... hat.

And he does so with the help of his street-smart fiancee Ms. "Oh ya, you blend" Mona Lisa Vito, played by then-newcomer, and soon-to-be Oscar winner, Marisa Tomei. Her turn as an expert witness is as fine an elucidation of the application of ER 702 as you are ever likely to see in cinema.

Some Other Kooky Facts...

If we know one thing and one thing only, it's that everyone in Hollywood is a rare genius - nobody, but nobody, wanted to direct this great, low-budget film. Finally, Jonathan Lynn, a Cambridge-educated lawyer turned Hollywood guy, signed on to direct. With a budget of $11 million, the film grossed $64 million worldwide. Not a bad return if you like money.

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