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Film / My Cousin Vinny

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Vinny: I'm learning all this as I go along. I'm bound to fuck up a little.
Lisa: "A little?" You've been thrown in jail twice!

My Cousin Vinny is a 1992 legal comedy film directed by Jonathan Lynn, written by Dale Launer, starring Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei, Ralph Macchio, Mitchell Whitfield, and Fred Gwynne.

Two college kids from New York, Bill Gambini (Macchio) and Stan Rothenstein (Whitfield), are driving through Alabama when they are arrested for the armed robbery of a convenience store and the shooting of its clerk — due to a misunderstanding for why they were being questioned (Bill forgot to pay for a can of tuna while at the store and thinks he's being arrested for shoplifting), Bill accidentally "confesses" to the crime and the two are put on trial for first-degree murder and accessory. Fortunately Bill has an attorney in the family, his cousin Vinny, and Vinny soon comes down to Alabama with his argumentative fiancée Mona Lisa Vito to help the boys clear their names. Hilarity Ensues.

The film is famous for being extremely accurate on the legal side. Jonathan Lynn studied college law and wanted the film to be realistic in its depiction of proceedings. Lawyers and judges have widely praised the film not just for doing a good job showing what the trial process is actually like, but also its attention to smaller details that aren't focused on, such as how Vinny effectively uses cross-examination to discredit eyewitnesses and demonstrate they aren't reliable as solid evidence. Law professors have been known to show the film to their classes to discuss and dissect the film and demonstrate what to do and what not to do in a trial. When the film is often mentioned alongside To Kill a Mockingbird as one of the best legal films, you know it's doing something right. Tomei won the 1993 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film.

The film is also notable for not leaning on Deep South stereotypes — the residents of the small Alabama town are shown to be folksy but definitely not stupid, and are overall decent and sensible folk. And unlike most legal films and television shows, the prosecutor and the judge are not portrayed as antagonists; the prosecutor is a reasonable professional who sincerely believes he is bringing two murderers to justice and has no animosity with Vinny nor Vinny with him, and while the judge dislikes Vinny it's not without merit and he doesn't let his opinion of Vinny influence his moderation of the trial proceedings (with one single exception). The humor is derived from its Fish out of Water premise with the proud New Yorker Vinny having to adjust to temporarily living in a southern town, since of course New York and Alabama are two very different places with very different people and culture. It's also soon revealed that while he is a lawyer, it took him six tries to clear the bar exam and this is his first actual trial case, and there's a lot of pressure on him since his cousin's life is on the line.

In 2017, crime novelist Richard Kelter began a novel sequel series titled Back to Brooklyn. Vinny deals with his and Lisa's family, and his friend Judge Malloy suggests he get experience by becoming an assigned counsel (the attorney you are assigned for free if you can't afford one). The next three books in the series are My Cousin Vinny (2018), Wing and a Prayer: How They Met (2019), and A Very Vinny Christmas Story (2020).

There have been many trope example lists that have glorified the Great American Legal System.

This is not one of them:

  • Accidental Theft: While in a convenience store, Stan and Bill take a tuna can and forget to pay for it. Right after they leave, the clerk is murdered and Bill and Stan are taken to the police station, charged with shooting the clerk. They think it's for shoplifting the tuna can, and comment on how the punishment is a little excessive.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: As Vinny is grilling one of the witnesses and deliberately asking him very basic questions, one of the court officers can't help but chuckle.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: In his original questioning, Billy's question "I shot the clerk?" gets misinterpreted as an admission of guilt ("I shot the clerk!").
  • 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.
    Vinny: What happened to you, rear-ended?
    Man in neck brace: No, I fell.
    Vinny: When you fell, was it in your place or in somebody else's place?
    Man in neck brace: My place.
    Vinny: (to himself) Shit.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Vinny is questioning a witness during the trial about how long it took him to cook some grits. The witness originally says five minutes, but Vinny needs to prove that it took longer, so he brings up some knowledge he'd picked up earlier and asks, "So, Mr. Tipton, how could it take you five minutes to cook your grits, when it takes the entire grit-eating world 20 minutes?" This stuns the witness, who is eventually forced to admit that he may be mistaken about his testimony.
  • Aside Glance: When Lisa is on the stand refusing to talk to Vinny, he asks to treat her as a hostile witness, and Lisa snarks back implying they're headed for a big fight later. Judge Haller then asks if they knew each other, and Vinny responds that Lisa is his fiancée. Haller then looks directly into the camera when he snarks, "Well, that would certainly explain the hostility."
  • Audience Surrogate: Vinny and Lisa are mostly ignorant of courtroom procedures, and have to learn as they go along, which benefits audience who are not familiar with the topic.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Lisa on the stand when IDing the tire tracks. Vinny is pretty good at this too, debunking the eyewitnesses' accounts by observing very minor details. It might be a reason why the two of them are together.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Vinny and Lisa spend almost every waking moment arguing with one another, but it's the cornerstone of their characters and relationship. An argument about a dripping tap rapidly becomes foreplay and the case is won when Vinny puts a furious Lisa in the witness stand to argue against Vinny's own defence strategy in public.
  • 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.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • Lisa testifies about the tire tracks she saw in the crime scene photos, and says "The defense is wrong" about the theory that a car identical to the defendants' was involved in the shooting, because it had to be a different make of car altogether, just similar looking.
    • After winning the case, Vinny is trying to get out of town before the judge gets the fax from the NY bar. The judge exits his chamber with a smirk and clutching a fax. When he meets Vinny just before he can get out (Vinny gives out a silent Oh, Crap!), Haller congratulates him on his impressive "record" in New York. Turns out Mona had his judge friend fax Haller.
  • Behind Every Great Man: Vinny is determined to win his first court case on his own, but he'd be lost without Lisa to look after him, and while Vinny made the connection himself, it's ultimately her testimony that proves the boys' innocence. It's even made explicit in Vinny and Lisa's final conversation, where she makes him admit that having to say "Thank you" to someone who helped is not exactly a big deal.
  • Blatant Lies: Everything Vinny tells Judge Haller about his legal background and why there is no record of a "Vinny Gambini" practising law in New York.
  • Blind Without 'Em: The public defender attempts to use this to discredit Mr. Tipton, but fails when it turns out the glasses were just for reading. Inverted with Mrs. Reilly, an elderly woman who was wearing her glasses while witnessing the event. However, it's shown that her eyesight is so bad she is all but blind even with 'em.
  • Bluff the Impostor: Subverted. When Vinny puts Lisa on the stand as an automotive expert, Trotter assumes she's exaggerating her experience and asks her a detailed technical question. When she protests that the question is "bullshit" and claims that nobody could answer it, he assumes he's proven that she lacks expertise. Then she explains that he'd specified a vehicle configuration that didn't actually exist, corrects his question, and answers it correctly.
  • 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 basic aspects of law and trial procedure (he's not completely inexperienced, but has only handled civil cases, which all settled out of court). He defends himself by saying that he barely had time to study while working in a garage.
  • Break the Haughty: Mr. Tipton's confident demeanor is bordering on Smug Snake when he first takes the stand. When Vinny delivers an Armor-Piercing Question by pointing out the discrepancy in his story involving his timing with cooking his grits, he's stunned before immediately falling apart.
  • Brooklyn Rage:
    • Vinny beats up a guy who taunted him at just the wrong moment.
    • This gem when Vinny and 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 achin 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... (rhythmically stomps foot three times) ...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 onto 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 is extremely good at arguing, but very bad at knowing the law. Granted, this is only because the case he's dealing with came up before he could get the chance to arrange to sit in on trials playing out so he could pick up how courtroom procedure works.
  • 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!
    • The crane shot of the boys pulling calmly out of the Sac o' Suds, not leaving tire tracks.
    • Hearing about how long grits have to boil— with the detail that these aren't the instant grits that you may be familiar with, but which no self-respecting Southerner would use. These are old-fashioned hominy grits.
    • 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 outside the crime scene left by the murderer's car as it fled the scene.
    • One tire spinning, the other tire motionless, when Vinny's car get stuck in the mud.
    • When Vinny and Trotter are discussing the case, Trotter says he has a pretty good one, but he'd like to have the murder weapon. Later, Sheriff Farley, on a "hunch," testifies that the gun with the same caliber bullet used in the murder was found with the actual killers that were arrested in Georgia.
    • Several of these can also qualify as a Chekhov's Gag.
  • 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: Vinny travels here to help acquit his cousin of murder.
  • 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 violencenote — but is rated R based solely on this trope's presence.
  • Culture Clash: The Central Theme of the movie. You have two Italian-Americans from New York who go down to the Southern state of Alabama for a court case. Along the way, they notice that the citizenry are very different from those living in the Big Apple.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Vinny, repeatedly, especially in regard to his utter ignorance of court etiquette and procedures.
    Vinny: Your Honor, my clients—
    Judge Haller: Don't talk to me sittin' in that chair!
    Vinny: (confused, pointing to bailiff) But he told me to sit here.
  • The Comically Serious: Judge Haller keeps his composure, no matter how ridiculous things get.
  • Content Warning: FXM's airing of the movie got the same treatment as Straight Outta Compton by broadcasting uncut and thus getting a similar TV-MA advisory, which is quite surprising for a 90s movie.
    The following film is presented in its complete theatrical version. It was rated R by the MPAA and may not be appropriate for children under 17. It is rated TV-MA-LV and contains strong language and violence. It is intended only for mature audiences. Viewer Discretion Advised.
  • Continuity Snarl: When Vinny finds out that the judge knows Jerry Gallo has died, he insists that the judge misheard him and his name was Jerry Callo. Later, the judge gets a fax from Vinny's friend, Judge Malloy, confirming his identity. Lisa says she called the judge and told him. While she was on the phone when he comes out to get her to testify, he never mentioned the name change to her beforehand (at least not that we saw).
  • Contrived Coincidence: The entire basis of the plot. Minutes after Stan and Bill leave a convenience store, 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. The fact that no one believes that it could be a coincidence is the reason two innocent people are in danger of being convicted of murder.
  • Conveniently Cellmates: Stan and Bill share a jail cell throughout the film.
  • The Dead Have Names: Averted in an apparent effort to keep the tone light. The murder victim (Jimmy Willis) is only barely discussed and almost always referred to simply as "the clerk," even during the trial for his murder.
    • Anyone who works as a defense lawyer will tell you that this is Truth in Television, as they know referring to a victim by name will make the jury more likely to sympathize with their death and find the defendant guilty. Tellingly, Vinny only refers to Jimmy by name after he has proven Bill and Stan's car did not leave the tire marks in the store parking lot and Sheriff Farley just testified that two men fitting their descriptions were found with the same weapon used to commit the murder.
    • We do see that people knew and liked the victim; a very distraught lady comes in while they're photographing the body, saying "Oh my God, who would do such a thing!"
  • Deadpan Snarker: Vinny, Lisa, and Judge Haller have their moments of sarcastic humor, such as this:
    Vinny: "At least I'm wearing cowboy boots."
    Lisa: "Oh, yeah, you blend."
    Vinny: Your Honor, may I have permission to treat Miss Vito as a hostile witness?
    Lisa: Oh, you think I'm hostile now? Wait 'til you see me tonight.
    Judge Haller: Excuse me, do you two know each other?
    Vinny: Yeah, she's my fiancée.
    Judge Haller: Well, that certainly explains the hostility.
  • 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.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The second time Vinny gets awoken by the train at the hotel, he complains to the man at the front desk, who had assured Vinny that the train rarely came through "at 5 AM in the morning."
  • Didn't Think This Through: Vinny lies to the judge about his legal experience without ever considering that the judge will actually contact the State of New York to confirm his story.
  • Dingy Trainside Apartment: Vinny and Lisa spend their first couple nights in the Deep South in a hotel room next to a train that keeps waking them up at midnight. A subplot concerns their trying to find someplace else to sleep.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: An enforced trope and played for drama. Billy and Stan are shocked after being pulled over and having an armed police officer point a rifle at them for seemingly stealing a can of tuna by accident. It's not until the interrogation that the gravity of what they were really arrested for becomes clear.
  • Dissonant Serenity: While in prison, Vinny sleeps like a baby during a riot. It helps that he hasn't had a full night's sleep in about a week.
    • It also helps that he's from Brooklyn, and so, presumably, the sounds of a riot are at least closer to sounds he'd already be used to sleeping through (yelling, shouting, banging, occasional gunshots, and so on)
  • Doomed New Clothes: Downplayed in that Vinny's nice suit eventually gets cleaned, but it does fall in the mud, and forces Vinny to get a costume suit as a quick replacement.
  • Double Take: Most notably Stan when Vinny walks into the courtroom wearing the maroon usher's suit, but also Judge Haller, Bill, and presumably most of the court. Pretty much the reaction that 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: This is going to be a long list.
    • Vinny has one after another due to his complete ignorance of courtroom etiquette and procedures:
      • Vinny is ruled in Contempt of Court because he fails to correctly give a plea. And this was after the judge had literally spelled out exactly what he had to do.
      • Vinny's opening statement consists only of calling the prosecution's opening argument "bullshit", then saying "thank you" to the jury. Even worse, the judge instructs the jury to disregard everything he said except "thank you."
      • Thinking that the judge was only joking when he ordered him to wear a suit and tie in court gets him another night in jail.
      • And a third time when he cops an attitude after explaining his reasoning for wearing a gaudy replacement suit after the suit that he was supposed to wear to court gets covered in mud. Afterwards, he falls asleep in court and swears during his opening statement.
      • Vinny tries to act clever and sneaky in order to get access to Trotter's case files, only for Trotter to freely give them to Vinny. Lisa - who never even went to law school - has to explain to Vinny that Trotter was required to do this.
    • Gibbons gets one in the form of his spectacularly botched questioning of Mr. Tipton. He asks an ill-prepared line of questioning that actually strengthens the prosecution's case against the boys.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: After cross-examining Wilbur, Vinny comes back to the defense table and happens to see the photo that Lisa took of the tire marks, which makes him realize exactly what happened, and that he needs Lisa on the stand to explain it.
  • Facial Dialogue: Fred Gwynne as Judge Haller provides a master class in these tropes throughout the film in his exasperated dealings with Vinny.
  • Fish out of Water: Vinny is a New Yorker from Brooklyn in the rural South. He freaks out at the sound of nature, but is fine with a prison riot.
  • Felony Misdemeanor: The boys initially assume that they're having the screws put on them for accidentally shoplifting a can of tuna. Subverted in that the clerk was murdered at the convenience store that they had just left, and they're the prime suspects.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When Stanley meets with the public defender, the man has a very brief and mild stutter. Nothing compared to his severe breakdown in the courtroom.
    • During his meeting with Trotter, Vinny mentions arguing with a traffic cop until he admitted to wrongfully giving Vinny a ticket. During the first day of the trial, Vinny finds a discrepancy in Mr. Tipton's testimony and badgers him until he admits the truth.
  • Friendly Enemy: Trotter, the prosecutor, is entirely friendly and welcoming to Vinny, despite them representing opposing sides of the case (see Hero Antagonist, below). It's very much Truth in Television that prosecutors and defense attorneys would have no personal animosity, and it is not unusual for them to be friends. After all, this is their job.
  • 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 and Lisa is seen on the phone with him, but the character is never seen or heard during the entire movie.
    • The actual killers of the clerk also never appear in person.
  • 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!"
  • Guile Hero: Vinny is very good at deductive reasoning, identifying small flaws in what most people think is an Open-and-Shut Case, and forming coherent, logical arguments to convince people of the truth. He's also clearly a talk-first-punch-last kinda guy, despite his cantankerous demeanor.
  • 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. He's prosecuting Stan and Bill because the evidence suggests that they're guilty, and he immediately dismisses the charges when Vinny proves that they're not.
    • The Judge butts heads with Vinny on a number of occasions, but he's just trying to get him to follow standard court procedures and has good reason to be annoyed with Vinny's unprofessional behavior. He's completely and professionally impartialnote  otherwise.
  • Hollywood Law: While this film is for the most part very accurate when it comes to its depiction of the legal process (won an award for it, in fact), there are a few minor embellishments for the sake of narrative convenience:
    • Vinny is licensed to practice law only in the state of New York. In order for him to be able to act as a lawyer in Alabama, a lawyer who is licensed to practice in Alabama would need to file a motion (pro hac vice, absurdly standard practice) and be a part of his legal team. But if this happened, there would be no movie, as that lawyer would know what he was doing and likely would have gotten the weak case thrown out. The first scene with Judge Haller is a meeting with Vinny in his chambers about getting an out-of-state lawyer approved, but as stated above, your law school and experience is not are not licensed in that state and therefore you need to work with one who is.
    • Judge Haller had no legitimate reason to overrule Vinny's objection to Wilbur's testimony. While he can theoretically overrule it, the verdict would almost certainly have been overturned by a higher court simply for this reason, as this shows extreme prejudice against the defendants. Maybe he assumed (correctly) that Vinny must have had some sort of prior notice because he actually got procedure right for once, but Vinny was still right about all the specifics that were left out.
    • Although likely staged this way for humorous effect, real police lineups do not have people with wide discrepancies between height, weight, build, and facial features. They are made up of the suspect(s) and a couple of volunteers who look similar to the suspect in height, weight, build, skin color, hair color, and general facial features, so that when an identification is made, if it is the actual suspect, they are chosen because they are truly recognized by the witness(es).
      • Moreover, Stan and Bill would not be placed in the same lineup, as this increases the probability of a false positive identification.
      • This is ultimately played realistically since the lineup is never mentioned at the trial. Either the judge didn't allow it or Trotter, realizing how bad it was, didn't even try to use it as evidence.
    • When Bill and Stan get arrested, they're under the impression that they're in jail for shoplifting until Bill figures it out during the confession. Due to the Writ of Habeas Corpus, it's nearly impossible for someone in custody to go that long without being told what he has been arrested for.
    • The black lady on the jury (seen when Trotter talks of "our ancestors from England") also serves Vinny in the café during the lunch recess before his presentation of evidence. If she's on the jury, she would not have been allowed to leave the court to work, and least of all to serve the defense attorney.
    • When the prosecutor asks Mona for the second time whether she had ever worked as a mechanic, she responds by nodding. A judge would not let that pass. He would tell her to answer out loud, for the record and for the jury to hear.
    • The public defender tries to prove that one of the witnesses has poor eyesight by challenging him to tell him Stan and Billy's eye color from across the room. While not against the rules, it is generally a bad idea to ask open-ended questions of this sort, due to the risk of it backfiring and the witness answering correctly (as happens here).note  Beforehand, Stan even cites this as a reason not to go with Vinny as an attorney. Vinny himself does do this later on in the trial, but gets away with it.
    • It is justified considering Vinny's inexperience, but he had a Plan B available if Lisa refused to testify or was disallowed as an expert witness: given that Vinny is an experienced auto mechanic himself, the rules of court would have allowed himself to take the stand as an expert witness, since he had no way of knowing that his own general knowledge of American automobiles would be relevant to the case.
    • Vinny would not be allowed to represent both Billy and Stan. In any criminal case with multiple defendants, either one could at any point turn state's evidence and testify against the other, thus creating a conflict of interest if they had the same attorney.
    • Also, one of the most common inaccuracies in legal movies is kept here...the ability for lawyers to arbitrarily leave their desk and walk around in "the well"...the area that contains the stand, the judge's bench, and the jury box. In the American court system, a lawyer is not allowed to do many of the things seen in these legal movies (e.g. walking around, approaching the stand, talking face-to-face to the jury) without explicit approval from the judge. If they do not get that permission, the bailiff will tackle them the instant they step into the well. This rule is ignored in fiction, including here, for the sake of flow, drama, and filmmaking (it is far easier and more compelling to frame a shot with both the lawyer and another person in it instead of cutting to them talking to each other across the room). Note that Trotter, while delivering his opening address, maintains a respectful distance from the jury.
    • In a notable aversion, nether Bill nor Stan testifies at their trial. While commonplace in movies and on TV, in real life it is generally seen as a bad idea for the accused to take the stand at a murder trial, and in most cases a good defense attorney will advise against it.
  • 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 Counsel is holding up two fingers.
    Vinny: Your Honor, please!
    Judge: Oh. ... Sorry.
  • I Have Brothers: This is how Lisa, who works as a hairstylist, knows virtually everything there is to know about anything related to cars. When she's up in court, she explains to everyone that her family runs an auto repair back in New York, and that her dad, her dad's brothers, and her own brothers all worked as mechanics. Lisa herself actually also worked as a mechanic in the business for a while before becoming a hairstylist.
  • Impossibly Tacky Clothes: The maroon three-piece Lounge Lizard style suit that Vinny has to wear on the first day of trial, due to his proper suit falling in the mud, there being no one-hour dry cleaner, and the tailor's shop being closed. When the judge first sees Vinny in the suit, he thinks that Vinny is mocking his orders to dress properly.
  • 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."
  • It Runs in the Family: As mentioned above, Lisa gained her encyclopedic knowledge of cars from her family of mechanics.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Judge Haller proudly displays his Yale University diploma in his chambers. This contrasts with Vinny's school that no one's ever heard of and sounds a bit fly-by-night ("Is that an accredited school?" "...Yes"). Vinny calls it the "Brooklyn Academy of Law"; in reality, there's only one law school in Brooklyn, called Brooklyn Law School. It's fairly obscure, but still well-regarded.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: It was wrong of Vinny to freak out at Lisa (which he realizes almost immediately afterwards), especially since she was just trying to help him, but he's probably right that she should be cutting him a little slack given that he's literally half an hour away from losing the case, being disbarred, and potentially being prosecuted for misrepresenting himself to the judge. Lisa staring at him coldly for being just a little bit curt with her (this was before he had yelled at her) wasn't very fair given the sheer amount of stress that he was under at the time.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Judge Haller comes across as extremely cold and strict, but he's only trying to run his courtroom correctly, in the face of Vinny's antics, and he (correctly) suspects that Vinny is lying about his experience. After the case is over and he no longer has to worry about any of that, he congratulates Vinny on his ability and gives him a warm send-off.
    • Stan. He's snarky, pessimistic and uptight (though that's justified, given he and Bill are charged with murder). Aside from that, he's an everyman who is generally good friends with Bill, even demonstrates a degree of loyalty towards him.
    • Both Vinny and Lisa (especially Vinny) come across as clueless, squabbling, obnoxious city folk who look down at the locals, but are in fact very intelligent, loving, and polite when interacting with most people.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Having Vinny object to the prosecution's Surprise Witness (and for Judge Haller to admit he's correct before overruling him) serves this purpose; allowing that is one of the few violations of real-world courtroom procedure in the movie, but without it the finale wouldn't be as dramatic, so they hang a lampshade on it instead.
  • Large Ham: The prosecutor and Vinny himself. Lisa also has her moments, to the point her actress won an Oscar.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: After Wilbur's testimony, the judge calls a recess for lunch. Vinny then asks for a continuance of a day, "so (he) can go over all this...", and clearly he's about to say "shit", but realizing he doesn't want any more trouble with the judge, says "stuff" instead.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: Trotter employs theatrical mannerisms and gesticulations whenever he's got the floor to further emphasize certain details to the jury.
  • Mistaken Confession: There's a fine line between "I shot the clerk?" and "I shot the clerk!". Cultural intonations played for laughs.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Lisa wears many flattering and eye-catching outfits throughout the film.
  • My Biological Clock Is Ticking: This exact line is part of one of Lisa's monologues, accentuated by her stamping out the beat to illustrate.
  • Negated Moment of Awesome: Vinny is all excited at the idea he's bonded with Trotter and gotten him to reveal his case before Lisa (whose been reading some of the law books) reveals that the opposing lawyer is required to reveal what's their case is for fair discovery procedure.
    • He also objects to Trotter bringing in the FBI investigator with last minute notice, citing that he should've been given sufficient attention beforehand to cross examine him, only for the Judge to overrule him.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer bizarrely refers to Vinny as the "most dangerous man in America", giving the audience the impression that he's some kind of mobster.
  • Newhart Phonecall: Bill has one early on, explaining to his mother that he and Stan have been arrested for murder.
  • Nice Guy: The prosecutor reveals himself to be this as the film progresses, as he spends the whole movie being kind and helpful to the heroes, to the point of dropping the charge without hesitation in the end.
  • No Antagonist: The judge perhaps acts as an antagonist, but there's certainly no true villain in the movie. Everyone, including the judge and prosecutor, are working for justice according to the best information they have. When it becomes clear the boys are innocent, the prosecutor immediately drops the charges.
    • Of course there are the people who really killed the clerk and are letting two innocents take the fall but they don't appear in person.
  • Offscreen Karma: On the last day of the trial Sheriff Farley confirms that the true perpetrators responsible for the death of Jimmy Willis were already arrested in Georgia two days prior.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The reaction of the public defender when his questioning of Mr. Tipton only serves to make the boys look more guilty.note 
    • The response of Trotter when Lisa answers his trick question perfectly.
    • Bill has a delayed reaction version when he realizes that he's been arrested for murder instead of shoplifting.
    • Bill and Stan when Lisa, on the stand, announces, "The defense is wrong." Subverted immediately when she proves that the car that drove away from the store right after the murder was a 1963 Pontiac Tempest, not their car, a '64 Buick Skylark.
  • Omnidisciplinary Lawyer: Subverted. Vinny is a personal injury lawyer who's never tried a case, and 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.
    • Firstly, they think they're confessing to shoplifting, when they're being asked about a murder, which leads to the Mistaken Confession.
    • Secondly, Vinny visits Stan in prison to talk about the case but Stan (having never met Vinny before) thinks he's a prisoner who wants to have sex with him.
  • One-Hit KO: How Vinny's $200 bet is ultimately resolved.
  • Only Bad Guys Call Their Lawyers: Deconstructed when Stan and Bill talk to the cops after being arrested. They think they've just been hauled in for accidentally swiping a can of tuna, so they are happy to talk with the police and try to explain things. This gets them charged with murder, because Stan's confused "I shot the clerk?!" is interpreted as a straightforward admission of guilt, and is later used at the preliminary hearing as evidence to go to trial. This exact scenario is why all lawyers say to never talk to law enforcement without your lawyer present, even if everyone involved is working in good faith and trying to get to justice.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Vinny and Lisa have a very serious conversation, no snark, no arguing, about how he (a New York tough guy) is really scared about the trial, and Lisa gives him comfort and love.
  • Pet the Dog: After they win the case, Stan owns up that he shouldn't have doubted Vinny for a moment and joyfully thanks him for all his help. This is meaningful when one considers how snarky and pessimistic Stan normally is.
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: Vinny's fairly short (Joe Pesci's 5'4" in height), but manages to beat up a stingy redneck who was easily 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. The way they phrase their answers is taken out of context as a murder confession, and is used against them at trial. (This scene is often used by real lawyers as an example of why suspects should never, ever speak to the police without an attorney present, even if everyone means well).
  • Prison Rape: A brief conversation about this between Stan and Bill leads to a little awkwardness for Stan when Vinny first shows up, as Stan assumes he's another inmate rather than their attorney.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!:
    Judge: Now, the next words out of your mouth are either going to be "guilty" or "not guilty". I don't want to hear commentary, argument, or opinion. 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. I hope I've been clear. Now. How. Do. Your clients. Plead?
    Judge: No, I don't think you do. You're now in contempt of court. Would you like to go for two counts of contempt?
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Sheriff Farley, while not really a "villain," does believe the boys are guilty and repeats Bill's statement as if it was an admission of guilt, not the questioning tone actually used. Later, he confirms that the car used wasn't the guys', corroborating Lisa's testimony, without having heard it.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Notably, while the members of the local criminal justice system are all antagonists, they're also eminently reasonable men who sincerely believe they're doing the right thing and act in a manner that's consistent with a legitimate pursuit of justice:
    • 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 look on his face, after Lisa's testimony that the boys' car couldn't have been the getaway vehicle, George Wilbur's confirmation of such, and Sheriff Farley's report of a similar car with the right abilities (with look-a-like drivers, and the murder weapon), shows him looking as if about to say, "Mr. Trotter, if you don't dismiss the charges, I will."
    • 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.
    • The sheriff believes the boys are guilty, but agrees to check out a hunch on Vinny's behalf, and seems quite pleased when it results in the real culprits being caught.
  • Reasonable Request Rejected: Vinny Gambini, serving as legal counsel, objects to the surprise addition of a new witness, and he is sure to explain his reasons clearly due to past history of not being understood by the judge. The judge acknowledges the reasonableness of the request.
    Judge Chamberlain Haller: That is a lucid, intelligent, well thought-out objection.
    Vinny Gambini: Thank you, Your Honor.
    Judge Chamberlain Haller: [firm tone] Overruled.
  • 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 or the pigs being readied for slaughter. 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 cat-and-mouse of Judge Haller's efforts to find out Vinny's background as an attorney.
  • Serious Business: Grits. A line of courtroom questioning that revolves around the proper preparation of grits commands the stern attention of the jury even before its evidential significance becomes clear, and it inspires applause from a spectator upon its conclusion.
  • Sherlock Scan: How Lisa and Vinny realize that the car driven by the real killers isn't 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.
  • Shown Their Work: The film's depiction of the legal process is very accurate. In fact, many law schools show scenes from it to teach proper court procedure. The director Jonathan Lynn has a law degree and insisted the courtroom scenes be how real cases are presented. In addition, the writer Dale Launer spent months interviewing many Southern judges and lawyers for research. The movie is ranked #3 by the American Bar Association's ranking of 25 greatest legal movies (just behind To Kill a Mockingbird and 12 Angry Men, respectively). 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: A rare inversion. In this film, both the prosecutor and the judge are from rural Alabama, and are educated, articulate and good at their jobs. Vinny, on the other hand, is from New York City, and is inexperienced, clueless about courtroom procedure and very rough around the edges.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Surprisingly not Joe Pesci, who does swear, 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.
  • Sleep Deprivation: A recurring gag throughout the film is that City Mouse Vinny (and Lisa) can't get a good night's sleep due to being unfamiliar with a noise of mostly rural small Southern town. The first two places they stay they get woken up incredibly early (by a pig farmer, and early train). The prosecution attorney loans them his cabin in the woods, but the sounds of animals keep them awake. It gets the point where the third time he's held in contempt of court, he refuses to let Lisa bail him out, hoping to finally get some rest. The scene cuts to a riot going on, with Vinny sound asleep as it reminds him of home. The next scene he's looking well-rested and chipper in court.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Very far on the idealistic scale. Characters make mistakes and act like jerks sometimes (particularly Vinny), and a few are outright jerkasses (like the redneck bullies at the bar), but generally everyone is presented well. There is No Antagonist and everyone conducts the trial in good faith. The witnesses all tell the truth as they know it, and when they realize they've made a mistake, they are quick to admit it. Ditto the judge and prosecutor, to the point that the prosecutor drops all charges when it becomes apparent that the boys are innocent.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Judge Haller has a chess board in his chambers, presumably playing a long game with a friend by mail or just studying set ups.
  • Smoking Gun:
    • Lisa's photos of the tire tracks.
    • Almost literal, but offscreen. The final nail in the coffin for the prosecution is the sheriff revealing that a gun matching the caliber that killed the clerk was found in a stolen car matching the description Lisa gave, driven by two men matching Bill and Stan's description.
  • Snobs Versus Slobs: There's a bit of this in the clash between Vinny the working-class Brooklyn mook vs. the Southern prosecutor and judge, who are genteel and well-educated. Word of God from the (English) director says he saw the character clash in the terms of the British class system.
  • Southern Gentleman: Once Lisa makes it clear that she is more than just a pretty face helping out her fiancee with her extensive knowledge of automobiles, Judge Haller turns into this, almost escorting her off the stand.
  • Speech Impediment: The state defense attorney that Stan wants to hire has one. Normally it doesn't show, but when he is under pressure, he stammers with a ridiculous frequency.
  • Starter Villain: Downplayed in that the murder case is a relatively easy one with inept police practices, basic legal procedures like evidence disclosure, and obviously unreliable witnesses that an experienced defense attorney could have dealt with quickly. However, for Vinny, it is a challenge for a beginner like him who had to take the bar exam six times with he and his girlfriend's in depth knowledge of American automobiles being their special edge in that case.
  • Stealing the Credit: Sheriff Farley says in a very tongue-in-cheek manner that he looked for stolen/abandoned 1963 Pontiac Tempests "on a hunch". Even though he did so on Vinny's request.
  • Surprise Witness: Lisa, who was called in to rebut the Prosecutor's Surprise Witness, Mr. Wilbur.
    • In the case of Wilbur, the movie takes pains to show just why surprise witnesses aren't actually allowed in real life, no matter how fun and dramatic they are in the movies. The prosecution springs Wilbur on Vinny, and he doesn't have an appropriate opportunity to examine the testimony and accompanying evidence and prepare a compelling response. He basically gets a lunch break to come up with an argument and a cross-examination, and while he does OK, considering the circumstances, it's really not enough time. There's a really good reason both sides in a trial are compelled to turn over evidence and witness lists ahead of time.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: 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, though in their defense, the guys thought they were discussing a shoplifting charge - a misdemeanor at worst.
    • Vinny lies about his history as an attorney (or lack thereof) to Judge Haller. Of course, Vinny, lacking any real experience, would never think he would contact the State of New York to review his history. Wrong. Although one would think he would review his history 'before' the trial...
    • Vinny's antics in the courtroom get him found in contempt of court, and send him directly to jail. Three times.
    • Mona Lisa mentions that having to bail Vinny out of jail is wiping out their budget.
    • Since Bill and Stan can only be convicted if the prosecution can prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Vinny's strategy mostly consists of discrediting all of the prosecution's witnesses and causing the jury to doubt the state's case.
    • Vinny comes up with a reasonable objection to the judge, pointing out that he's had no time to interview this surprise witness or review the evidence that will be presented, and wants it thrown out. The judge admits he's right, but overrules Vinny anyway. Any lawyer can tell you that not every judge is fair and unbiased and can easily have a case hit a brick wall if the judge is an asshole and even otherwise fair judges have their limits when dealing with someone who has regularly shown a disregard for the trial procedure as Vinny has.
    • Any lawyer will tell you to be absolutely thorough in vetting and preparing a witness for expert testimony because it can backfire badly. If the opposing counsel can find a way to discredit your expert's argument, they may have to admit this on the stand and thus strengthening their case against you. This is exactly what happens with Wilbur after Lisa's testimony.
  • 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 likable folks.
  • Tacky Tuxedo: When Vinny's good suit has to get dry cleaned, the only suit he can find in time is one of these (an old-fashioned usher's suit, in burgundy). The judge thinks Vinny is mocking him when he first sees the suit.
  • 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:
    Bill: We got an attorney in the family!
    Stan: Great. Who?
    Bill: My cousin Vinny!
  • Tomboy with a Girly Streak: Tough-as-nails, argumentative Wrench Wench Lisa who is also a fashionista hairdresser.
  • 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, Southerners love their grits (this is absolutely Truth in Television).
  • 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 Alabamian, 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.
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: Lisa, who practically rocks one outfit for each scene.
  • Unishment: You'd think getting sent to jail for contempt of court would be unpleasant for Vinny, but it lets him have a good night's sleep for the first time since he came to Alabama.
  • 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." Nevertheless, 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.
  • Wham Line: "No. The defense is wrong!"
    • Also "So, Mr. Tipton, how could it take you five minutes to cook your grits, when it takes the entire grit-eating world twenty minutes?"
  • Wrench Wench: Lisa, whose extensive knowledge of automobiles becomes a crucial plot point later in the movie.


Video Example(s):


Were These Magic Grits?

Vinny poke holes in a witness's testimony by questioning how fast he can cook his grits.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / PullTheThread

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