A radio personality in Philadelphia was recently reviewing the work of Joe Pesci. He ignored Pesci’s comedic roles, instead focusing on his many “mob” turns in films such as Casino and Goodfellas. Big mistake. Pesci has played many funny characters, including one of the best in the last 20 years, one Vincent LaGuardia Gambini in My Cousin Vinny.
Make no mistake about it. Pesci portrays the same greasy Italian-American role that he does in the mob films. However, this time he’s a bumbling just-passed-the-bar-after-six-tries New York (Brooklyn, actually) lawyer who is called on to defend his cousin (Ralph Macchio) and the cousin’s friend against an unjust murder rap in the sticks of Alabama. Pesci is at is cussin’ best as he goes in and out of jail while trying to learn the ropes of the legal system under prim and proper Judge Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne).
Vinny gets put in many hilarious situations in the film and writer Dale Launer makes the most of each with snappy repartee and comical interactions between the characters. One of the best is when Vinny meets his cousin’s friend and co-defendant Stan for the first time—in the jail cell. The dialog for the moment is as good as it gets in film comedies.
More riotous exploits occur between Vinny and his fiancée, Lisa, who accompanies him on the trip south. Lisa, who brings a seemingly endless wardrobe, is played brilliantly by Marisa Tomei who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role—unusual for a comedy.
It’s hard to figure if Pesci is acting or just playing himself in the films he has been in. The character he generally portrays is interchangeable whether it is comedy or drama. The only difference is in the dialog. Here it works with great success.
My Cousin Vinny is a film you can watch 50 times and still enjoy (I know this from personal experience). It is one of Joe Pesci’s best and should be a part of every comedy movie library.