Why 'My Cousin Vinny's Lisa Was The Movie's True Star
Long before La La Land was mistakenly announced as the Best Picture winner at Sunday's Academy Awards instead of Moonlight, another envelope mixup rumor plagued the Oscar world. Back in 1993, when actor Jack Palance announced that Marisa Tomei had won Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in the comedy My Cousin Vinny, many were shocked. A rumor emerged, and persisted for years, that Palance had read the wrong name, and that Tomei hadn't actually won. But now that we know what it looks like when a big mistake actually happens during the Oscars, there's no doubt about it: Tomei was the rightfully voted winner of that golden statuette. And with the 25th anniversary of My Cousin Vinny hitting this month, it's time to stop asking of Tomei deserved her win, and instead start appreciating both the actor and her brassy, feminist character.
It's hard enough these days to find great, complex female roles in film, let alone 25 years ago. But back in 1992, there was Mona Lisa Vito, Tomei's big-haired, mini-skirt sporting, car mechanic girlfriend of Joe Pesci's titular character Vinny. As the only woman in a very dude-heavy movie, Lisa, as she's known, carries a lot on her shoulders. She's constantly doubted by the other characters, but it doesn't affect her confidence, nor her ballsiness. It's a tribute to Tomei, the director, and the screenwriters that Lisa was able to shine and steal scenes.
Lisa's role in Vinny is a master class in how to deal with mansplaining. As it turns out, she's the legal brains of the movie — not because she has a secret law degree, but because she pays attention, is a stickler for details, and can retain a serious amount of information in her head. When Vinny finds himself in bind after bind throughout the movie's main case, it's Lisa who manages to help him find the info he needs to move forward, although her help doesn't always come appreciated. Throughout their time in Alabama, Vinny puts Lisa down, insults her intelligence, and generally doesn't believe her when she clearly has the info he needs. But Lisa persists. She sticks to her guns, keeps reading, talking, and helping, and eventually, she gets her comeuppance.
One of the film's final scenes sees Lisa called to the stand as an expert witness for Billy and Stan's defense, and it's in the hot seat where her intelligence and confidence get to shine. Knowing what she does about cars, mechanical history, and the automotive industry, Lisa is able to blow the prosecution's case out of the water. It's an amazing scene, with great back and forth between Lisa and Vinny, and it alone is worth the price of admission (though the whole movie is hilarious). In this scene, Lisa's worth is finally appreciated, and her persistence pays off. She becomes the unsung hero of the film, and through a combo of big brains, flashy outfits, and determination, she finally gets the attention and praise she deserves.
And 25 years later, as we recall just how awesome Lisa was, let's not forget how wonderful the actor playing her was in the role, as well. Sure, Tomei won the Academy Award, but she's also been plagued by the idea she didn't deserve it for over two decades now, which is completely unfair. She won that Oscar fair and square, for her brilliant portrayal of a great character, and no one can take that away from her.