Notice And Comment: My Cousin Vinny

A classic of legal cinema, or grossly overrated?

As a two-lawyer couple, Zach and I argue over legal issues and law-related matters all the time. For example:

  • Is the prosecution of Allen Weisselberg, former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, justified?

  • Does the Ninth Circuit go en banc too frequently?

  • Is our son Harlan named after the first or the second Justice Harlan?

And, most importantly:

  • Is My Cousin Vinny, the 1992 comedy starring Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio, and Marisa Tomei, a gem of a legal movie—or grossly overrated?

Here is Zach’s opening statement, on behalf of the prosecution:

So Roger Ebert basically got this one rightMy Cousin Vinny is well acted (Marisa Tomei almost deserved the Oscar), intermittently funny (though certainly no Zoolander), and has heart (I guess). But it really drags on the front end and is achingly predictable. I’d imagine MCV would have been largely forgotten had not a bunch of legal bigwigs gone gaga over its (supposed) edginess and useful, CLE-approved “practice tips.”

Of course, it’s still better than To Kill a Mockingbird (both the book and the movie).  

Counselor's entire opening statement, with the exception of the part about To Kill a Mockingbird, shall be stricken from the record.

Here is my defense of the film:

How can you not love My Cousin Vinny? Sending an unpolished personal injury lawyer from Brooklyn down to rural Alabama to defend two yutes accused of murder is a fantastic “fish out of water” premise. Sure, MCV is predictable, but every underdog story is. They’ve been predictable ever since David defeated Goliath—and that’s a feature, not a bug.

As in every good tale, there’s some setup involved. But the concluding courtroom sequence is a comedic tour de force, and Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei are nothing short of brilliant in it.1

Readers, what do you think? Is My Cousin Vinny a classic of legal cinema, or grossly overrated? And what legal films, if any, are superior? Please share your thoughts in the comments to this post, which are open to all.

UPDATE (12:50 p.m.): You can also vote in this Twitter poll that @PJSobkowski just posted:


If you doubt the acting chops of Pesci and Tomei—it’s easy to underestimate comedic work—just check out their performances in The Irishman and In the Bedroom, respectively.