My Cousin Vinny

Cars, bickering and defensiveness are the ingredients of a good relationship, right?

Tonight’s unexpectedly delighful movie was My Cousin Vinny, a courtroom comedy. A New York teenager is facing a murder charge in Alabama, and the titular Cousin Vinny (Joe Pesci) is the only lawyer he can find.

Unfortunately, Vinny is in over his head. This is his first trial since scraping through the bar exam, and his New York wisecracking doesn’t come across well down in Alabama.

What he does have going for him is his fiancee Lisa (Marisa Tomai). Their relationship is the main reason to watch the movie. They are bickering, insecure, chaotic, defensive – and utterly, beautifully in love.

They have both spent time as car mechanics, which gives them a shared language and respect for each other’s competence in at least one area. When Vinny admits he messed up court procedure, he explains it through an analogy to fixing a carburetor.

Admitting that he’s stuck is, in fact, Vinny’s biggest problem. He keeps on pushing away Lisa’s attempts to help, because accepting help would mean admitting that he needs it. Whenever Vince gets past his defensiveness, he and Lisa make for an admirable team.

Lisa and Vinny have a relationship built on squabbling. Vinny’s client at one point defends his choice of lawyer because he comes from a family of bickerers:

“You have to see the Gambinis in action. These people…they love to argue. I mean, they live to argue.”

We then cut to a delightful scene, which begins with Vinny ragging on Lisa for leaving a faucet dripping. Then, as she gives a string of increasingly elaborate explanations of the correct torque to prevent drips, his anger fades into horny enchantment at her patter.

All these elements come together for the final courtroom scene. As a legal resolution to the case it feels painfully weak. As a resolution to their relationship, though, it feels fundamentally honest and hopeful

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