My Cousin Vinny
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This paper discusses the movie "My Cousin Vinny" in terms of its use of stereotyping, its view of the legal system, family values, and the relationship between Vinny and Lisa.
My Cousin Vinny My Cousin Vinny is a film that is hard not to love As a hilariouscomedy about a murder case that hinges on mistaken identity it pitsneophyte New York lawyer Vincent Gambini against Southern D A Jim Trotterin a little Alabama courtroom presided over by the hard-line JudgeChamberlain Haller The movie\'s comic appeal alone makes it well worthwatching-repeatedly in fact-but interwoven into the fabric of the storyare themes worthy of discussion stereotyping the legal system familyvalues and the relationship between
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My Cousin Vinny is that rare type of movie that achieves comicbrilliance while at the same time challenging longstanding stereotypes tomake a social statement. Not satisfied with thisexplanation, Stan adds, "The Klan's here. Their unity is enhanced by the perception of them as the only two citypeople in a town full of rural ones. Like any normal couple they fight occasionally but usually get overtheir anger relatively quickly. This puts them in a sort of "You andme against the town" position, while they suffer together through the manyinconveniences of Alabama life, such as 5 a.m. Lisa: Me? The highlight, though, is when Vinny punches theguy and retrieves the money-a complete reversal of the usual stereotype,where the big guy beats up the little guy or the tough country guy beats upthe "sissified" city guy. You get thirsty. Vinny'sappearance in city clothes contrasts humorously with the stereotypicallawyer dressed in a three-piece business suit and tie. The characterization is in itself a poorly done stereotype ofsorts that would have been better carried off by omitting the offensivelanguage altogether and concentrating on other aspects of the characters.An example of the over-the-top use of profanity occurs when Vinny and Lisaare getting ready to go to court: Vinny: I got thirty f--g minutes to take a shower, get a new suit, get dressed and get to the f--g courthouse. This becomes a victory of the underdogover the establishment for the viewer, who-if he is like me-was cheeringand hooting at the end, when Vinny wins the case. The movie's comic appeal alone makes it well worthwatching-repeatedly, in fact-but interwoven into the fabric of the storyare themes worthy of discussion: stereotyping, the legal system, familyvalues, and the relationship between the characters played by Joe Pesci andMarisa Tomei, Vinny and Lisa. In one scene, Vinny makes a beautifully statedobjection, to which Haller replies, "Mr. In fact, the movie so overdoesthese issues that it seems to be crippled in its attempt to develop thecharacters more fully; the overuse of foul language becomes lame afterawhile. Theirs is a longstanding relationship, and it is easyto see that they understand each other and care deeply about one another.When they tease each other, it is funny, not cutting. It skillfully ties the social commentary in withthe humor so that they are part and parcel of one another rather thanseparate entities. The lack of family values is somewhat curious in a movie that isin other respects an earnest campaign against injustice and the moralwrong. When the two accused boys, Bill and Stan, make their oneallowed phone call to Bill's mother, he tells her, "We think they're tryingto set us up as patsies, Ma. Vinny and Lisa are typical New Yorkers, arriving in the muddy Alabamatown in New York street wear-Vinny in a leather jacket with gold around hisneck, and Lisa also in leather and a trendy short skirt. You spot a little brook. They are not tryingto destroy each other; they are having fun. They go to a dinerfor breakfast, and the menu only contains three offerings: "breakfast,""lunch," and "dinner." Lisa says, "Breakfast?" and Vinny answers, "Yathink?" ("My Cousin Vinny"). In spite of the inadequacies of the legal system-particularly Haller'stendency to exploit it on the basis of his personal preferences-in the end,Vinny wins the case. By the end ofthe movie, most of the usual stereotypical notions about New Yorkers,country folks, and trials have been defeated by the turn of events. Furthermore, the extensive use of offensive language in the moviemakes it unacceptable for children and the offense-sensitive, even thoughit would otherwise be a relatively inoffensive and highly worthwhilecomedy. Jim Trotterin a little Alabama courtroom presided over by the hard-line JudgeChamberlain Haller. When the deputy glares at him, hesoftens the statement slightly-"Some of them do" ("My Cousin Vinny"). I disagree. The twist in the plot, though, is that the inexperienced,atypical, unprepared Vinny wins the case against the old-school,experienced, confident Trotter. You're prancing around. train whistles and a lack ofthe variety in foods that they are used to in New York. The movie also takes a jab at the legal system, bringing out both itsworthy and ridiculous sides. What about you? If there is any area in which the movie can be criticized, it is inthe realm of family values. Stereotyping is used in the movie both as a comic device and as socialcommentary. Although Vinny and Lisa's cohabitation without being married is largelyaccepted in society as a whole, it is still not reflective of strong familyvalues. One of their few big blow-outs occurs whenVinny decides to go hunting with Trotter, thinking that he will be able toparlay the hunting trip into a quest for vital information about the case.Lisa, however, objects to the possibility of his killing an innocent deer.When he asks her if the pants he is wearing look okay for the hunting trip,she responds with a hilarious diatribe: Imagine you're a deer. Stereotype in this movie, then, is used toadvantage to create humor but also to deconstruct itself. Even Lisa challenges the typical stereotype of the city girl. All of the checks and balances in the system enableVinny to steer past the judge's and jury's perceived disdain of him and seethe truth. This dichotomousapproach erodes to some extent the impact of all the excellent points madeusing stereotyping. A f--n' bullet rips off part of your head. She isbilled as "an out-of-work hairdresser," but counter to that stereotype, sheis absolutely brilliant at analyzing the facts pertaining to the automobilein the case. In fact, it is her analysis and testimony that clinch thecase. In terms of the relationship between Vinny and Lisa, however, themovie really shines. ("My Cousin Vinny"). Likewise, when short-statured Vinny in his big-city garb challengesthe enormous country brute who "stiffed" Lisa out of her pool winnings, thecontrast between stereotypes once again adds comic dimension. Gambini, that is a lucid,intelligent, well thought-out objection;" when Vinny thanks him, Hallerresponds, "Overruled" ("My Cousin Vinny"). Of course, had they been defendedby a less insightful lawyer, that might have been the case, but Vinny'ssharp analysis won them their freedom. His win emphasizes that for all of its tedious rulesand loopholes, the legal system is still capable of bringing the rightpeople to justice. It is atribute to the excellence of the writing and the skill of the actors thatthe film can serve a dual purpose so adroitly and still be viewed as a"good time" movie. There is also a sense that Haller is inclined to give Trotterpreference in his rulings, merely because Trotter is Southern and followsthe established protocol. Your brains are lying on the ground in little bloody pieces. Lisa: Oh yeah, you blend ("My Cousin Vinny"). Halleremploys the legal machinery to criticize Vinny's otherness, commenting oneverything from his dress to his lack of familiarity with courtroometiquette and sending him to jail for contempt of court for the slightestinfraction. You know how corrupt it is down here. Judge Haller, with his traditional outlook oncourtroom protocol and continual moves to put Vinny in contempt of courtsymbolizes the carping fundamentalism of the legal bureaucracy. When they first arrive intown, for example, they engage in an interchange about their clothes: Vinny: You stick out like a sore thumb around here. You put your little deer lips down to the cool, clear water--BAM. While making fun of ethnic bias, it proceeds, on the other hand, tohold up unsavory values and habits as acceptable. Family values are sorely lacking in the movie. Lisa: You f--g shower, I'll get your f--g suit ("My Cousin Vinny"). The viewer never feels he is being hit over the headwith socially relevant themes; he merely feels entertained. My Cousin Vinny My Cousin Vinny is a film that is hard not to love. Every point the movie makes-including itscharacterizations of Vinny and Lisa-would be complete without thegratuitous language and moral implications. The win also takes down the boys' perception that as city boysthey cannot get a fair trial in Alabama. In the smallAlabama town where the trial is being held, they look like fish out ofwater, and the contrast makes for an excellent playoff against the slow-moving town with its "good ole boys" and rural atmosphere. Works Cited"My Cousin Vinny." Miramax Studios, 1992. Now I aks you, do you give a f--k what kind of pants the son of a b--h who shot you was wearing? They're inbred. Vinny-who bystereotype would be the city slicker easily duped by the country boy-seesthrough the guy's attempt to cheat him by wrapping a twenty-dollar billaround a roll of ones. They sleep withtheir sisters" ("My Cousin Vinny"). At least I'm wearing cowboy boots. His lack ofcourtroom experience poses another contrast with the typical lawyer,epitomized by Jim Trotter, who knows all of the courtroom protocolthoroughly. Theimplication behind the humorous stereotype is that Southerners are racist,corrupt, small-minded cretins-unlike the nice, family-oriented Italians inBill's family. As a hilariouscomedy about a murder case that hinges on mistaken identity, it pitsneophyte New York lawyer Vincent Gambini against Southern D.A. Undoubtedly, there will be those who insist that the lack of familyvalues is merely part of the characterization of Vinny and Lisa, that usingfoul language and sleeping together is realistic, and that we should allrespect this device as a means of introducing authentic local color to themovie. Vinny: I fit in better than you. Theyall know each other" ("My Cousin Vinny").
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