My Cousin Vinny (1992) Screenplay Analysis


My Cousin Vinny (1992), written by Dale Launer, is one of the best comedies of the 90s. Let’s analyze the script.

Note: There are a couple of great interviews with Launer online that are worth a listen. Here’s 1. There’s also an old website of his where he shares notes for newer writers.

Script Formatting Notes

  • Draft Read: “REVISED #5 (GOLDENROD)”
  • Type: Shooting
  • Page Count: 149
  • Reading Speed: Medium
  • Setting(s): Rural Alabama
  • Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple days
  • Genre(s): Comedy
  • Theme(s): Southern values, New York values, love, trust, law
  • Protagonist Change: Moderate

Overall Thoughts

The best courtroom drama of all time? Check. Joe Pesci’s best performance? How about the best comedy script of all time? Quite possibly. Launer’s My Cousin Vinny is brilliant. And while it certainly isn’t as deep as other scripts which I consider of about equal quality, ex. Cool Hand Luke (1967), it’s extremely well written; great setups and deliveries, loaded with jokes, no wasted lines, etc.

Script Strengths

It’s funny. It’s so funny, in fact, that the actual meat of the trial, the part where Stan chooses Vinny to defend him over the public defender, doesn’t occur until Page 98 (76% of the way through the script). Note: the page numbers are all screwed up in the script pdf I read, but the point stands, it’s wicked late in the script.

Script Neutrals

Some of the jokes, particularly the cockroach and slaughterhouse, go a little long in the tooth i.e. they’re funny at first but are overused.

The portrayal of some Southerners could be offensive to some, but more or less the script does a good job treating people with enough respect to avoid such critiques.

Script Weaknesses

None to note.

Plot

The plot is pretty straightforward: a standard courtroom comedy. The structure is a bit stranger. Perhaps most importantly, the first ten pages do an excellent job of setting the stakes. But as explained above, it takes a while for the trial to actually get going.

In fact, the ending of My Cousin Vinny seems to come almost out of the blue. The buildup is late, and the pressure essentially is that Vinny is going to be exposed as a fraud unless he wins the case by 3pm. Vinny only stumbles onto a way to win the case at the last second. And perhaps most importantly we really don’t know if Vinny is going to prevail at the end, until he does.

Overall, the script works. It works really well. There aren’t any boring parts. There isn’t any drawn-out back-and-forth (ex. A Civil Action (1998)).

Characters

A stereotypical New Yorker thrown into a land of Southern caricatures. It has all the makings of satire, but none of the characters are shown to be overly dumb, neither are any without flaws. Flawed characters are often relatable and are therefore likable characters, and it’s no exception here.

Dialogue & Pacing

Brilliant. Truly. There are many memorable scenes that are running jokes (many of which tie together at the end). Perhaps the best scene that exemplifies this is the grits scene (Page 34):

Lisa takes out her camera, poised to document Vinny’s first taste of grits. Vinny stares at grits, looks at Junius.

VINNY

So, what is a grit anyways?

JUNIUS

It comes from corn. Hominy grits.

VINNY

Hominy. (this means nothing to him) How do you cook a grit?

JUNIUS

Simmer it in salted water for about 15 to 20 minutes. Then you put it on a plate. With a little butter.

Vinny tries a small portion of it. Lisa snaps a picture. Vinny shows no expression of like or dislike. He swallows. He thinks.

Vinny

Well… I’ve tried grits.

It’s hilarious, even though it isn’t in your face. In fact, Vinny’s nonplussed reaction only adds to the comedic element of each scene in which that tactic is ued.

There are also some great one-liners thrown in (Page 102):

VINNY

Woah!

(sobering, to Riley)

How long have you been wearing glasses?

RILEY

Since I was six.

VINNY

Were they as…thick as these?

RILEY

Oh no. They got thicker over the years.

VINNY

So, as your eyes have gotten more and more out of whack as you’ve gotten older…

Ha!

The script is fast-paced. As noted, there are no drawn-out scenes. When Launer wants to make a point, he just goes for it. For example, Vinny’s most serious speech (Page 83):

VINNY

Lisa, I don’t need this now.

(counting on fingers)

I got a judge who’s aching to put me in jail, some idiot who wants to fight me for two hundred dollars, slaughtered pigs, giant cockroaches, giant whistles, no sleep in five days, no money, a ‘dress code’ problem, and a little muder case which holds in the balance not just hte lives of two innocent kids….

(stomps floor)

…biological clock, my career, your life, our marriage, and what else? Can we pile a little more crap onto the outcome of this case?! Is that possible! I don’t think it is!

Emotional Impact

It’s a comedy. It’s not a very emotionally impactful screenplay. But there are some relatively strong messages. Since this is Vinny’s first case, the story actually has elements of coming-of-age. Vinny earns his confidence, albeit with a little unwanted help from his friends. And helping others and treating others with respect are important values that are shown in this script. The bottom line is that the screenplay is deeper than one would expect.

Best Part of The Script

  • Vinny’s intro is great. His opening line to Lisa, “Boy, do you stick out.” Ha! Start on Page 18.
  • The grits scene. Start on Page 34.
  • The climax with Lisa on the stand. Start on Page 112.

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