I finally watched My Cousin Vinny a few weeks ago, and I have some things to say about it. I had heard for years that it’s a great movie, and I was missing out by not watching it. But for some reason or another I never felt compelled to see it for myself. What changed to shake me out of my stupor? A YouTuber I respect named Matt Christiansen wrote a glowing review of the film that piqued my curiosity.
So I sat through it. My wife can vouch for me that I made it to the end. And it hurt. I like a lot of things about it, and I acknowledge that it built up to a satisfying conclusion. The characters are all interesting and funny in their own unique ways. I especially like the prosecutor who I first knew as Perry White in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, but I’ve seen him appear in lots of films since then, such as Red Dawn (1984). There are a lot of culture-shock undertones to the film, and I like the subtext of romantic relationships and finding peace in a chaotic world.
Now comes the big but. But I found several scenes almost unbearably painful to sit through. I was this close to failing in my quest to make it through. Thankfully, I held on because the climax of My Cousin Vinny is among the best I’ve ever seen. What were the scenes I almost couldn’t endure? Let’s talk about them.
Vinny Gambini is a New York kind of guy. He failed several times to pass the bar before eventually passing, and he’s never litigated a single case before. So it’s understandable that when his cousin begs him to come to the Deep South to help him defend himself against a false murder charge, he doesn’t do the best job at first. In fact, he’s downright lousy.
His first courtroom appearance is a disaster. The judge had warned him to wear a suit and tie, but he comes to court wearing his typical getup consisting of a lot of black leather. He’s already on thin ice with the judge as a result. It only goes downhill when he opens his mouth.
All he has to do is tell the judge if his clients plead guilty or innocent. That’s it. But he keeps trying to plead their case, plead for understanding, plead for mercy – anything but what the judge specifically asked him. I feel for him because his clients are innocent, and he wants to spare them a long legal proceeding. But this isn’t the way to do that. At the arraignment, all he’s supposed to do is say two words: “Not guilty.” They’ll have their actual day in court to dispel the misunderstanding later.
After showing a great deal of patience, the judge has finally had enough, and he says he will hold Vinny in contempt of court if he says anything besides “guilty” or “not guilty.”
But Vinny can’t help himself, and he doesn’t follow that simple command. So he finds himself spending the day in jail, even after he manages to say, “Not guilty.”
This scene hurt to watch for a number of reasons. I cringe when I watch people make obvious mistakes that they easily could have avoided. Wearing the wrong clothing is simple enough to correct, but Vinny doesn’t make it a priority. And any child could tell you that if someone in authority says the next words out of your mouth better be this or that, you better say this or that. The fact that Vinny doesn’t means he’s asking for trouble, and he falls below the status of an obstinate child because he’s old enough to know better.
The other scene that really bothers me is the one where Vinny literally gets stuck in the mud. He and his girlfriend go to a cabin in the woods to try to avoid all the noise that keeps preventing Vinny from getting a good night’s sleep. It doesn’t go so well because it rains all night, and the next day their car can’t escape the mud it’s in, making them late for an important court date. To top it off, Vinny had gotten a nice suit to comply with the judge’s order, but it got muddy during his attempt to dislodge the car. So he’s forced to turn to a secondhand store to obtain a gaudy red tuxedo to wear.
Vinny’s tardiness and ridiculous attire aren’t his fault, but the judge doesn’t know that. I feared he would get kicked out of court before he’d have a chance to explain himself. Thankfully, the judge is willing to listen to his explanation, and he reluctantly accepts it. However, he still holds Vinny in contempt of court because of his exasperated tone.
Where the Fault Lies
I get it. I really do. Frustrating scenes like these are meant to make the triumphant scenes that follow feel earned. It’s amazing seeing Vinny’s transformation from incompetent lawyer to skilled litigator. Even better, muddy tire marks play a pivotal role in the film’s climax.
I can’t fault the film for having frustrating scenes. They’re necessary to the story and the creation of tension and comedy. I believe the fault lies in myself. What is it in me that leads me to practically yell at the screen when things go catastrophically wrong? I can handle John McClane walking barefoot on glass better than I can handle a car ineffectually spinning its wheels in the mud. What is wrong with me?
While I was trying to think of a good way to end this article, my wife said something profound that linked directly to what I had written. She has been rereading her journal entries about how she and I met and fell in love. She was stressed out the whole time as she fought her feelings for me. I was blissfully ignorant, on the other hand, and I mostly just enjoyed getting to know her. From her perspective now, she wishes she could have enjoyed our courtship more instead of feeling guilty and worried about what would happen.
The silver lining is that she now trusts herself more as a result of this experience. She’s looking at things she’s currently stressed about, like raising our kids, and trying to decide if those things are worth worrying needlessly about. We can’t see the future, but we can have hope and trust that everything will turn out well if we continue to do our best.
If my wife can learn to worry less about big things in life, I can certainly learn not to sweat the small things in movies. I think I need to relax when approaching films with frustrating situations and characters. Easier said than done. But that’s my goal. I’m not sure how to measure it, but I want to enjoy movies more, even if they have scenes seemingly designed to get under my skin. Wish me luck.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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