plays Vinny Gambini, a New York attorney newbie who has to go to Alabama to defend his wrongly accused cousin
and friend in a murder trial. Hilarity
and profanity ensue. Marisa Tomei plays his argumentative fiancée with a highly-exaggerated New York accent that got her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar
Despite the Fish out of Water
premise, Southerners are not portrayed as hicks; a fair percentage of the Southerners are actually decent, sensible folks.
Also notable for being extremely accurate on the legal side, to the point it's watched and dissected in law school because it shows how some things are done both correctly and incorrectly.
There have been many courtroom dramas that have glorified the Great American Legal System. This is not one of them:
- Ambulance Chaser: Vinny notices a man with a neck brace. He occasionally breaks from his conversation to see if he can make a slip-and-fall case out of the man's injury. He loses interest when he realizes that there's no case.
- Badass: Vinny - not even a "kick ass" menace can frighten him.
- Badass Longcoat: Lisa rocks a stylish and sexy long black leather jacket/trenchcoat in a few scenes.
- Bad Guys Play Pool: The reason Vinny's supposed to fight the idiot redneck is because he stiffed Lisa when she won $200 at pool.
- Blatant Lies: Vinny's explanation as to why there are no records of "Vinny Gambini" ever trying a case in New York State.
- Blind Without 'Em: The public defender attempts to use this to discredit one of the witnesses, but fails when it turns out the glasses were just for reading. Inverted with another witness, an elderly woman who was wearing her glasses while witnessing the event; however, it was proven that her eyesight was so bad she was blind even with 'em.
- Book Dumb: Vinny is a street-smart guy with a great talent for putting together and presenting an argument. He also required six tries to pass the bar exam and somehow managed to do it without understanding the concept of discovery, which is fundamental to trials in US courts.
- Brooklyn Rage:
- Vinny beats up a guy who taunted him at just the wrong moment.
- This gem when Vinny & Lisa have a huge argument in the middle of the woods.
Vinny: Lisa, I don't need this. I swear to God, I do not need this right now, OK? I got a judge that's just aching to throw me in jail. An idiot who wants to fight me for $200. Slaughtered pigs. Giant loud whistles. I ain't slept in five days. I got no money. A dress-code problem. And a little murder case which, in the balance, holds the lives of two innocent kids. Not to mention your biological clock, my career, your life, our marriage, and let me see, what else can we pile on? Is there any more shit we can pile on to the top of the outcome of this case?! Is it possible?
Lisa: ...maybe it was a bad time to bring it up.
- Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Vinny, especially when he shows up dressed in an usher's suit (although not by choice — that was the only suit available).
Vinny: (to the Judge) I wore this ridiculous thing for you.
- Chekhov's Gun: This film is loaded with them, to the point that every tiny detail might be one, so you have to pay attention!
- Hearing about how long grits have to boil.
- Vinny's relationship with Judge Malloy in Brooklyn.
- Vinny mentioning that Lisa knows everything about cars.
- Vinny's interview montage of the prosecution's witnesses shows each time he zeros in on the pertinent detail.
- Vinny and Lisa's overly elaborate argument as to whether Lisa failed to turn off a faucet completely or if it was just broken.
- Lisa's constant picture-snapping and hence, her photograph of the tire-marks left by the murderer's car as it fled the scene.
- City Mouse: Vinny and Lisa at first seem to be clueless city slickers, but their New York toughness and wiles eventually save the day.
- Clear Their Name
- Cluster F-Bomb: It's a Pesci movie. What did you expect? Lisa actually manages to outdo him, to the point that Vinny complains, "What is it with you and that mouth?" To give you an idea, the movie has no nudity and no violence — but is rated R based solely on this trope's presence.
- The Comically Serious: Judge Haller.
- Contrived Coincidence: An in-universe example that kicks off the trial. Minutes after Stan and Bill leave a convenience stores, two similar looking men, in a similar looking car, arrive, rob and shoot the clerk, and flee. Three separate witnesses see them arrive, and see the killers leave, but miss everything in between.
- Conveniently Cellmates: Stan and Bill share a jail cell throughout the film.
- Corrupt Hick: All of the New Yorkers assume that they'll be treated unfairly because they're not Good Ol Boys, but their arrest was a genuine misunderstanding, not malice. Ultimately they're treated fairly by the legal system.
- Courtroom Antic: The bulk of the movie centers around a murder trial. Notable that the antics that would get a lawyer in trouble do get a lawyer in trouble.
- Deadpan Snarker: Vinny, Lisa and Judge Haller have their moments.
- Decoy Protagonist: The film starts with Stan and Bill, showing how they got arrested for murder and armed robbery. Once Vinny and Lisa show up, Stan and Bill are largely pushed to the background.
- Dissonant Serenity: While in prison, Vinny sleeps like a baby during a riot.
- Double Take: Most notably Stan when Vinny walks into the courtroom wearing the bright red usher's suit, but also Judge Haller, Bill and presumably most of the court. Pretty much the reaction you'd expect in Real Life, too.
- Dress Code: Vinny gets in trouble for not wearing a suit for the first couple of sessions.
- Epic Fail: Vinny is considered in Contempt of Court because he failed to correctly give a plea. And again when he thought the judge was joking when he ordered him to wear a suit and tie in court.
- Fish out of Water: New Yorker in the South. He freaks out at the sound of nature, but is fine with a prison riot.
- Friendly Enemy: The prosecutor, to the point of taking Vinny hunting and leaving a standing invitation for him after Vinny leaves for New York.
- Geeky Turn-On: An argument between Vinny and Lisa about obscure wrench knowledge quickly turns into foreplay.
- George Jetson Job Security: Vinny is taking the case pro bono, but that still doesn't keep him from being fired after screwing up a number of times with the judge.
- The Ghost: Judge Malloy is mentioned many times as Vinny's mentor, Lisa is seen on the phone to him etc but the character is never seen or heard during the entire movie.
- Good Ol' Boy: Discussed by Vinny: "Hey Stan, you're in Ala-fucking-bama. You come from New York. You killed a good ol' boy. There is no way this is not going to trial!"
- Hanging Judge: Subverted. Judge Haller initially appears this way as he is quite severe and determined to run his courtroom by the book, but he's ultimately fair and honest, except for one occasion where after weeks of dealing with Vinny's antics, he lets his personal animosity get the better of him in what is ultimately a reversible error.note
- Hero Antagonist:
- The prosecuting attorney is actually a really nice, honest servant of the people. He's very friendly with Vinny and even offers his cabin for Vinny and Lisa to stay in. He's also revealed to have left a lucrative private practice because he didn't like defending criminals, and dismisses the charges without argument when it becomes clear that the defendents are innocent.
- The Judge butts heads with Vinny on a number of occasions, but he's just trying to get him to follow standard court procedures. He's completely and professionally impartial otherwise.
- How Many Fingers?: Vinny uses this on a witness to test her eyesight. He has to chastise the judge for noting the answer before the witness has a chance to say anything.
Judge: Let the record show that the counselor is holding up two fingers.
Vinny: Your Honor, please!
- I Have Brothers: Lisa's a bit of a tomboy and uses this as one of her excuses. She also worked in her father's auto shop.
- Impossibly Tacky Clothes: The maroon three-piece suit Vinny has to wear on the first day of trial, due to there being no one-hour dry cleaner, and the tailor's shop being closed.
- Is It Always Like This?: Vinny asks the hotel clerk if the freight train always comes through town at 5:00 in the morning. The clerk says, "No sir, it's very unusual." When the same thing happens the following morning, he goes back to the clerk and says, "Yesterday you told me that freight train hardly ever comes through here at 5:00 am." The clerk nods and replies, "I know. She's supposed to come through at ten after 4:00."
- Its Pronounced Tropay: Stan's upset at the mispronunciation of his name. It's -steen not -st-eye-n.
- Ivy League for Everyone: Judge Haller proudly displays his Harvard Law School diploma in his chambers. This contrasts with Vinny's tiny school that no one's ever heard of and sounds a bit fly-by-night.
- Large Ham: The prosecutor and Vinny himself.
- Mistaken Confession: There's a fine line between "I shot the clerk?" and "I shot the clerk!". Cultural intonations played for laughs.
- Ms. Fanservice: Marisa Tomei as Lisa.
- My Biological Clock Is Ticking: This exact line is part of one of Tomei's monologues, accentuated by her stamping out the beat to illustrate.
- No Antagonist: The Judge perhaps acts as an antagonist, but there's certainly no true villain in the movie; Vinny, the judge, and the prosecutor are all looking for justice, and when it becomes clear the boys are innocent, the prosecutor immediately drops the charges.
- Omnidisciplinary Lawyer: Subverted. Vinny is a personal injury lawyer who gets called on for a murder trial. He goes through with it anyway (not without complaints) and he still had to fool the judge into thinking he was experienced enough for the trial despite being a completely new attorney.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Happens to the defendants twice. First, they think they're confessing to shoplifting, when they're being asked about a murder, which leads to the Mistaken Confession. Second, Vinny tells Stan about their case, but Stan thinks Vinny is going to Prison Rape him free of charge.
- Pintsized Powerhouse: Vinny is fairly short, but manages to beat up a stingy redneck twice his size.
- Poor Communication Kills: When Vinny's cousin and his friend are first arrested, they end up digging themselves deeper as they answer the police's questions while simply assuming they were being arrested for shoplifting, and the police never even mention to the two why they were arrested until well into the process.
- Prison Rape: A brief conversation about this led to a little awkwardness when Vinny first showed up.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
Judge: Mr. Gambini, the next words out of your mouth better be "guilty" or "not guilty". I don't want to hear commentary, argument, or opinion. I don't want to hear any facts or evidence. If I hear anything other than "guilty" or "not guilty", you'll be in contempt. I don't even want to hear you clear your throat to speak. Now. How. Do. Your clients. Plead?
- Reality Ensues: As a courtroom comedy that tries to be accurate on the legal side, this is a given:
- Making statements to police officers without your lawyer present can easily get you charged with a crime.
- Vinny lies about his history as an attorney (or pretty much his lack of) to Judge Chamberlain. Of course, Vinny, lacking any real experience would never think he would contact the State of New York to review his history. Wrong.
- Vinny's antics in the courtroom get him found in contempt of court, and send him directly to jail. Three times.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Judge Haller is a by-the-book judge who is exasperated by Vinny's lack of courtroom etiquette, but aside from one instance, is fair and impartial when Vinny does start following proper courtroom procedures.
- The prosecutor himself is trying to have Stan and Bill locked up, but only because he truly believes they are guilty, with all the damning evidence. When his case is completely eroded, he moves to dismiss all charges. He also invites Vinny to spend time in his cabin.
- Rule of Funny: No, Screech Owls do not sound like that, though they can be pretty loud.
- Running Gag:
- Vinny getting thrown in jail for contempt of court.
- Vinny and Lisa's repeated inability to get a good night's sleep, due to the train running through town or the factory whistles. Vinny finally feels at home while sleeping in jail during a riot.
- The guy who keeps showing up challenging Vinny to a fight for the owed money.
- The judge's efforts to find out Vinny's real legal background.
- Sherlock Scan: How Lisa (and presumably Vinny) realized and explained that the car driven by the real killers wasn't even of the same make as the car driven by the protagonists, simply by examining a picture of the tire marks it left.
Lisa: Would you like me to explain it?
Judge: So would I.
- This fulfills two Chekhovs Guns. The police picture is a close-up of the tire tracks which, unlike Lisa's picture, doesn't show that the car went over a concrete divider without stopping the track for either tire, thus demonstrating the real car's independent rear suspension and positraction.
- Shown Their Work: The film's depiction of the legal process is very accurate. The director has a law degree and insisted the courtroom scenes be how real cases are presented. The movie is ranked #3 by the American Bar Association's ranking of 25 greatest legal movies. Even a court reporter is present, who sits right behind the prosecutor during several scenes scribbling on a flip-up notepad and looking very excited.
- Simple Country Lawyer: An inversion. In this film, the Southern lawyers are better educated and far more erudite than Vinny, who is from New York City.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: Surprisingly not Joe Pesci, who swears but not so much as you'd expect. Mona Lisa is actually the one who earns the title.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Vinny and Lisa. They seem to prefer it that way.
- Smart People Play Chess: Judge Haller.
- Smoking Gun: Lisa's photos of the tire tracks.
- Speech Impediment: The state defense attorney that Stan wants to hire has one.
- Surprise Witness: Lisa, who was called in to rebut the Prosecutor's Surprise Witness, Mr. Wilbur.
- Sweet Home Alabama: While a few stereotypical rednecks pop up — basically the two guys who shouldn't play pool with a girl from Brooklyn — most of the Southerners are portrayed as honest and likeable folks.
- This Is Something He's Got to Do Himself: Brought up at the end of the movie, where Vinny briefly sulks about being unable to solve his first case himself. Lisa brings him out of it in fairly short order, though.
- Title Drop:
"There's a lawyer in the family!"
"My cousin Vinny!"
- Trademark Favorite Food:
- Bill stocks up on cans of tuna for his and Stan's trip to college.
- Lisa mentions Chinese food when she and Vinny arrive in Alabama.
- And, of course, southerns love their grits.
- Turn the Other Fist: On the third encounter with the Big Pool Player who owes Lisa $200, Vinny is distracted and in a hurry, and waves the guy off as he, the Alabaman, taunts the New Yorker with the $200. Waves him off, waves him away, tackle. Vinny gets back up $200 richer hardly breaking his stride.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Joe Pesci isn't exactly a looker, but he's with someone as good looking as Marisa Tomei.
- Well, This Is Not That Trope: The movie's tagline, as seen on the poster above. "There have been many courtroom dramas that have glorified The Great American Legal System. This is not one of them."
- Never Trust a Trailer: The film gained a lot of acclaim, even from the American Bar Association, for being more fair and accurate about the American Legal System than most movies, even the more serious ones.
- Wrench Wench: Lisa, whose extensive knowledge of automobiles becomes a crucial plot point later in the movie.