Why I love Marisa Tomei’s performance in My Cousin Vinny

With her strong self-belief and striking dress sense, Mona Lisa Vito is a character we can all get behind.

Words

Catherine Pearson

Among the many things to love about Jonathan Lynn’s 1992 courtroom comedy My Cousin Vinny, from its garish caricatures to its snappy script to its hilarious depiction of a murder trial, the film endures to this day largely because of Marisa Tomei. Her co-star Joe Pesci may be placed front and centre as Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, a personal injury lawyer and through-and-through New Yorker who is more than a little slow on the uptake, but it’s undoubtedly Tomei who steals the show – she deservedly earned the film its only Academy Award for her performance as Vinny’s fiancée Mona Lisa Vito.

Tomei gives a masterclass in making the most out of limited screen time, taking a supporting role that could easily have been reduced to a sassy side piece and imbuing it with emotional depth, humour and heart. Her delivery of screenwriter Dale Launer’s dialogue is particularly memorable: “You blend,” she says sarcastically to Vinny after he claims that his cowboy boots will help him mix with the townsfolk in rural Alabama. The combination of Lisa’s big hair, swanky shades, bright red lipstick and minimal leather-clad outfit marks her out as a confident woman, and Tomei follows her outlandish look through with impeccable comic timing and a solid Noo Yoik accent.

“My biological clock is ticking like this!” Lisa yells as she stomps her foot dramatically on the floor in another standout moment. With Vinny in over his head in his first ever legal case, Lisa decides to raise the subject of marriage with amusing consequences while wearing a figure hugging floral one-piece surely only Tomei could pull off. Lisa’s flamboyant dress sense – complete with skimpy skirts, diamanté patterns and shoulder pads you could land light aircraft on – is a vital aspect of her character. This is a woman who knows exactly who she is and what she wants.

Lisa is always one step ahead of Vinny. She is fiercely loyal and supportive, not to mention smart, savvy and quick to learn. She is also, as we later learn, something of an automotive expect, a fact which ultimately helps to win the case for Vinny. She is the type of person who speaks her mind and doesn’t put up with any nonsense from anyone. Yes, she did work as a mechanic for a time, she tells a chuckling Southern lawyer. And yes, she is currently out of work, she states matter-of-factly before an intimidating court. What of it? The most important lesson here is to be yourself, because being a woman in the real world is tough enough as it is.

Published 13 Mar 2018

Tags: Joe Pesci Jonathan Lynn Marisa Tomei

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