Mona Lisa’s Oscar

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.

Comedic gold, she wrote

What do me and superstar drag queen RuPaul have in common? Well, apart from having the life mantra of “Unless they paying your bills, pay those bitches no mind” and discovering our best selves when blonde, our third mutual connection is our love of the television show Murder, She Wrote — one of the greatest comedies of the twentieth century. Officially, Murder, She Wrote is not a comedy.It’s a murder mystery therefore my argument may not jump out at you.  There are  no gags, a couple of zings but, all in all, it’s focused on being a whodunit: more Agatha Christie than Animal House. However, to me, the whole show seems like one running joke. The expressive range of Angela Lansbury gifs floating around the internet shows it’s not one note.  

Running jokes,without a doubt, are my favourite comedic technique. There’s so much joy to be gained from dragging a concept, wringing it out for everything it’s worth, squeezing out the last droplets, and, finally, getting gigantic groans when you yank it back. It’s so innocent, but mischievous, annoying but amazing. Masters of this are easy to hate, such as Peter Kay with his shouting about GARLIC BREAD — a joke that has its own celebrity status and a starring role in not one, but two standup comedy specials. However, its charm enchants me, with its juvenile pantomime ways, an alternative to squealing and screaming “HE’S BEHIND YOU!”

I find Murder, She Wrote to be one massive running joke one it must be in on. It’s so blindingly camp, and so not subtle in its embracing of this quality. Each episode is virtually identical, the blueprint for the last being good enough for the next.It is a televisual personification of the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Classic creations ought to be celebrated, meaning they ought to never change, as Murder, She Wrote is so determined not to do.  

Typically, Jessica is on a trip somewhere, for example, a writer’s retreat, a film festival or visiting a friend on a dude ranch somewhere in the south — these episodes are an underrated treat because of the quality and variety of the accents. Sometimes, she’s in her fictional seaside hometown of Cabot Cove, Maine. However, she’s a busy bestseller so time in her quaint cottage is limited. People, places and publishing are a constant, and international, affair.  

The beginning is dedicated to establishing that there is a conflict between the friend Jessica is visiting and a caricature of a shady person. Usually, the latter has a job that typifies their inherent evilness: oil tycoon, movie producer, minority shareholder of a sports’ team. More often than not, the murder victim is a complete dickhead, so no one is ever really sad. Often, it’s as if the murder was an act of good will, marking a new beginning. The characters can now get on with their lives, free from the deceased’s reign of terror or, more importantly, claim on their intellectual property.

Normally,Jessica’s host is the one accused, despite many others having motivations,obvious or hidden from the viewer, for also being guilty. Rarely, or, hardly ever, is Jessica’s dear friend the actual killer; she is usually just placed under arrest, while Jessica irritates poor police officers, who are seasoned professionals, merely doing their job. The two parties spar for a bit, the cop insisting that writing about murderers doesn’t make you qualified at catching murderers. However, it would be annoying not to have her. This is true for a multitude of reasons,  but mainly because she’s so darn tooting capable. Her background in being around, and catching murderers is solid. Jessica is indeed an unasked for but useful aid.

This brings me to the endless humour garnered from the fact that no one, when they spot Jessica Fletcher, screams “FOR FUCK’S SAKE, SOMEONE IS GOING DIE” because she’s like that cat in nursing homes who perches on the knee of the Grim Reaper’s next visit. Whenever Jessica is near, so is death. She’s the magnet, and murder is the metal. Be prepared ladies and gentlemen: someone who is the victim of a vendetta is amongst you.

Oscar, the Jessica Fletcher of cats, who visits those on death’s door

It’s unclear if she’s good at figuring out murders because she writes murders or if she is good at writing murders because she figures them out. I suppose, after a while, it must all blur into one. Surely, this is one of literature’s greatest questions— do we write what we know or what we want to know?

Regardless, it ignites another question; how the FBI or some other equally large and ominous institution hasn’t snapped her up to use her power for good or ill; the choice is yours, because her confession rate is stellar, exemplary even. It is vital to Ms Fletcher’s morality, and identity as a writer, that she remains an impartial agent Nevertheless, she seems to have the best of both worlds:getting to live a rather lavish life as a lowly writer –  one that must be relatively unheard of in today’s world –  and then assisting with really juicy crimes all over the country, and sometimes the world. Destinations have stretched as far as a London and Paris, reflecting Jessica’s versatility;she is both cosmopolitan and country.   My love for and frequent viewing of the show stem from it being one of the few works of fiction my grandmother and I vaguely agree on. Our ritual is watching it together,eating fish and chips, while she complains they are too cold. I’ll insist on disagreeing, but she won’t believe me. To me, the exchange  – cries of “Clara, these chips are too sodding cold. Yours must be too!” –   is all of a piece with an heiress with a terrible perm and ruby red shoulder pads being accused of killing their seedy uncle