Growing up in an Italian family means that there is a very specific set of films we have on repeat through holidays. From my mother continually saying she won’t rewatch movies and yet always sitting down when The Godfather was on to my brother quoting Joe Pesci’s lines from Goodfellas, there were plenty of iconic films in our rotation.
But the one that stuck out the most to me (because of one specific character) was My Cousin Vinny. For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved Marisa Tomei, mainly because she was a fun Italian woman who didn’t fall into this mold that I’ve seen so many others do. More often than not, the women of these movies fall into matriarchal roles, forced to cook and clean the kitchen and be there for the men in their lives.
While Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) was a character who wanted to get married and have kids, she was a character with a whole host of interests outside of just her love for Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci). She loved photography, hair, Vinny, and most importantly, cars.
There is something about Mona Lisa that just feels so real to me. Maybe it’s because she’s underestimated or that she’s not afraid to tell people they’re wrong, but I could watch Mona Lisa Vito take the stand and prove the men in the courtroom wrong for the rest of my life.
In My Cousin Vinny, Mona Lisa goes with Vinny to defend his cousin, Billy (Ralph Macchio), from a bogus murder charge. Billy and his friend stop to get food at a gas station, and Billy accidentally steals a can of tuna. When the cops pull them over, they learn that the clerk who helped them was shot dead after they left and they’re being blamed for it. Luckily for Billy, his cousin Vinny is a lawyer. Sort of.
Vinny has been practicing for six weeks and the only one who really believes in him from the start is Mona Lisa. She’s fierce, funny, and can destroy a man’s ego with her knowledge of cars, and that’s not even getting into her brilliant outfits and ability to read Vinny’s lawyer book and give him advice.
Growing up, I just liked looking at Marisa Tomei movies more than I liked things like The Godfather because she wasn’t beholden to this idea of what an Italian woman should be and, instead, was entirely unique and herself. It’s probably why I still love watching Marisa Tomei now, especially as Aunt May in the current Spider-Man franchise.
Anyway, this is my quarantine mood.
Marisa Tomei remains one of my favorite actresses. If it’s not My Cousin Vinny, I love to rewatch Only You, where she’s an Italian girl from Pittsburgh who goes to Rome and falls in love with Robert Downey Jr.—so, you know, extremely relatable to me.
(image: 20th Century Fox)
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