I know I’m nearly twenty seven years late to the party, but how on earth was Marisa Tomei’s legitimacy to the Best Supporting Actress ever questioned for her part in 1992’s My Cousin Vinny? Her role as Mona Lisa Vito is iconic, and the fact that someone would rudely suggest she was not deserving of it is plain wrong.
Now before I go on, let me get one thing straight, I don’t care, nor intend to care who the other nominees are. The Academy Awards do not interest me, unless they just frankly wrong, like Emma Stone’s performance in La La Land beating Natalie Portman’s Jackie. The only thing that needs to be said now is that I feel very passionate about that miscarriage of justice, so much that I need to save my energy for when I can articulate myself a tad eloquently.
In due respect to myself, I was not an entity in 1992, and it would take another three years for me to descend from the heavens, and arrive on planet Earth. Shocking to the system as it is that there was a whole wide world out there before the arrival of yours truly, but it the realisation that world didn’t begin when you did is soothed by the back catalogue of culture that waits for you. I’ve been wading my way through it ever since I can remember, and honestly, it might just be one of my favourite activities; discovering gems from a time long ago. Coming across touchstones from past eras is much easier now a days with the internet, although doesn’t make it any less fun.
This film was first introduced to me, as a child, by my mother, whose usual regimented rules regarding films; Rated Rs are not for children, was waived for this. Apart from the suggested gun violence, there wasn’t anything ground breakingly graphic; no blood, no tits and no drugs, just excessive amounts of swearing, which my household was an everyday occurrence. The line “What are you? A fucking world traveller?” is tame.
Last Sunday, I gave this film a re-watch, and it was still a delight, and I think largely because this film follows what I call the Elaine Benes Rule, which is that the token female character increases the watchability, memorability and quotability to a standard that would otherwise not render it such a classic. There is a myriad of films and television shows that follow this rule, examples include, and not at all limited to; Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and of course, Seinfeld.
Most of the memorable lines are because of Mona Lisa, My Cousin’s Vinny’s token lady (and fiancee); the bit about hunting, comments about Chinese food in the South and the TICK, TICK, TICKING of her biological clock. She exposes the extent of Vinny’s legal procedure naivety, and becomes the defense case’s winning witness. Lisa longs to help her hapless finance, who cannot even see beyond the end of his nose to figure out she’s the key to dropped charges.
Along with being she the catalyst of the comedy, and almost best of all, she’s so unapologetically feminine, embracing all the cliches, neuroses and supposed flaws. Nagging Vinny may be her forte, but she almost needs to, because she’s the most capable character, thus differentiating herself from the stereotype of the “girlfriend”. She knows how to fix a faucet, everything about mid-century mechanics and how to throw together a stylish, well accessorised look. Her opening ensemble is the precursor to something a early era Lady Gaga would sport, particularity with those statement sunglasses. Lisa’s outfits just get better and better as the film develops, as she makes use of all her free time. There’s nothing for her to do apart from put together some fresh looks, when she’s not thanklessly bailing Vinny out of jail and doing extensive background reading about disclosure regulation She’s stuck in the sticks and cannot catch a break.
I’m a real sucker for a Strong Female Character ™, and especially ones like Mona Lisa, who are so much more, as she’s honestly just a person, who happens to a lady, who is just living her life, calling out nonsense, rolling her eyes at men who cannot seem to get through their pin heads that she has specialisms and interests that somehow intertwine with yours, that might actually lead to a knowledge base more extensive than the one you have, all while wearing an excellent body con floral jumpsuit, because why the fuck not?
I love that this role was rewarded with an Oscar because frankly, the comedy genre is underrepresented with Academy voters, and Tomei’s performance brings the writing to life; eye movements, accents and stubborn squirming in the hot seat. It might be twenty seven years old, but its a timeless character to me.