My Cousin Vinny
My Cousin Vinny is a 1992 American comedy film directed by Jonathan Lynn, from a screenplay written 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).
|My Cousin Vinny|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jonathan Lynn|
|Written by||Dale Launer|
|Music by||Randy Edelman|
|Edited by||Stephen E. Rivkin|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$64.1 million|
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, Vincent Gambini, a lawyer who had only recently passed the bar exam after several 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) and the more reserved Southern townspeople.
A critical and financial success, Pesci, Gwynne, and Tomei all received praise for their performances, and Tomei won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The film has also been lauded by attorneys for its accurate depiction of court procedure and trial strategy.
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 tin 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. Vincent LaGuardia "Vinny" Gambini travels there, accompanied by his fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito. Although he is 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, about being 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 that will lead to convictions. 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. However, in questioning the first witness, the public defender actually ends up bolstering the prosecution's case, something that Stan feared Vinny might do.
Despite his missteps, Vinny shows that he is able to make up for his inexperience with an aggressive and perceptive questioning style. Vinny quickly discredits the testimony of the first witness, and Bill and Stan's faith is restored. Stan fires the public defender and re-hires Vinny, who then proceeds to utterly discredit the testimony of the next two witnesses in cross-examination.
On the trial's third day, Trotter produces a surprise witness, FBI analyst George Wilbur. Vinny immediately objects to the witness as Mr. Trotter failed to inform him properly ahead of time, but his argument is overruled. Mr. 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. Judge Haller orders a lunch recess immediately after the direct examination of Mr. Wilbur. Vinny asks for a full day's continuance to properly prepare for cross-examination, but Judge 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. However, Vinny realizes that one of Lisa's 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. 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. However, one model of car with these features is the similar-looking metallic, mint-green 1963 Pontiac Tempest. Vinny recalls George Wilbur, who confirms this. Vinny 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 green Pontiac Tempest, and were in possession of a gun of the same caliber as that which was used to kill the clerk. Trotter moves to dismiss all charges. The judge congratulates Vinny and, as they drive away, Vinny and Lisa bicker about their wedding plans.
- Joe Pesci as Vincent LaGuardia "Vinny" Gambini
- Marisa Tomei as Mona Lisa Vito
- Ralph Macchio as Bill Gambini
- Mitchell Whitfield as Stan Rothenstein
- Fred Gwynne as Judge Chamberlain Haller
- Lane Smith as Jim Trotter III
- Bruce McGill as Sheriff Dean Farley
- Austin Pendleton as John Gibbons
- Chris Ellis as J.T.
- James Rebhorn as George Wilbur
- Maury Chaykin as Sam Tipton
- Paulene Myers as Constance Riley
- Raynor Scheine as Ernie Crane
- Michael Simpson as Neckbrace
- Lou Walker as Grits Cook
- Kenny Jones as Jimmy Willis
With a budget of $11 million, My Cousin Vinny was more successful than anticipated, grossing $52,929,168 domestically and $11,159,384 in the foreign markets, bringing its overall total to $64,088,552.
The film received generally positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 85%, based on 52 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." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film a grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.
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.
Director Jonathan Lynn has a law degree from Cambridge University, and lawyers have praised the accuracy of My Cousin Vinny's depiction of courtroom procedure and trial strategy, 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". 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", and criminal defenders, law professors, and other lawyers use the film to demonstrate voir dire, relevance, and cross examination.
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 Fletcher Anderson Jr. 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". 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.
[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, 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. 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. In 2008 the ABA Journal ranked the film #3 on its list of the "25 Greatest Legal Movies", and in 2010 ranked Pesci's character as #12 on its list of "The 25 Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Are Not Atticus Finch)".
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.
In an interview on March 14, 2012, the film's screenwriter, Dale Launer, talked about a sequel he had written involving Vincent 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.
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.
Pesci later reprised the Vincent LaGuardia 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.
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