A short Plot Summary & Review

by Buthaina Al Othman

"My Cousin Vinny"

Year: 1992

Time: 119 minutes

Director:Jonathan Lynn

My Cousin Vinny", is a good comedy, about two American college students, Bill and Stan, who were on a road trip to UCLA, passing through Alabama. They were arrested and accused mistakenly for murder in a southern town of Alabama. Bill's family arranged for a relative lawyer, Vinny, who is from the Bronx, to defend them. Vinny is an inexperienced lawyer who made six attempts before he passed his bar exam. He has no courtroom experience; he doesn't even know enough to stand when the judge enters the courtroom. This why Stan, in desperation, hires another lawyer, "who thinks it is a triumph if he can successfully complete a sentence", due to speech difficulty, under certain stressful situations. This shows the effect of the psychological element on one's speech

The plot is about proving the innocence of Bill and his friend Satn and solving the murder. Most of the scenes take place in a courtroom in a small town of Alabama, where a lot of culture-clash humor between "Vinny" and the judge mainly occur, and old-hat jokes about Brooklyn versus Southern accents come to life.
Language wise, the movie demonstrates a number of linguistic issues that have to do, mainly, with culture and language. These issues resulted in wild misinterpretation/miscommunication related to context of speech, culture-specific phrases, pronunciation, and some of the slang and vernacular used in a certain American English dialect.

The film presents a good example of the relationship between language and context in verbal communication. One example was presented in a scene when the two boys stopped at a convenience store to buy some food and after they've left, Bill found a tuna can in his jacket pocket, which he forgot to pay. Later, the two college students got arrested. They thought it is because of the tuna can, while in fact it was for the shooting and killing of the storekeeper. The following dialogue, which was carried, at the police station between Bill and the police officer, explains how misinterpretation of language occurs when the speaker and the listener have two different contexts in mind:

Bill: "It's a stupid thing to do…Stan has nothing to do with it"
Officer: "did he try to stop you?" ......."when did you shoot him?"
This question has changed the whole situation, because Bill is aware now of that it is a murder and not the tuna can that got them arrested.

Slang and vernacular are a major issue in the language used in this movie. It is very well demonstrated in the speech of "Liza", played by Marisa Tomei who won the best supporting actress Oscar for her role in this movie.The following dialogue, between "Liza" and "Vinny", is a good example of the typical New Yorker accent.
Vinny: "You're actin' like you're nervous or something".
Mona Liza: "Well, yeah, I am…. You wanna know what I'm nervous about…My biological clock is tickin' like this, and with the way this case is goin', I ain't never getting' married".
Vinny: "Okay. I've got a judge that's just achin' to throw me in jail! …I ain't slept in five days…"

Slang expressions like "I've been stiffed", and "they peeled away", were also used. "Liza" used the first one, and a southern American used the second one.

In conclusion,I learned a lot about the difference between two major American-English accents. The cultural aspect is also a major issue in this movie. It shows how language and culture are strongly connected, and how individuals' identity is really reflected in the language they produce. However, in his movie review published by the Sun Times, in 2000, movie critic, Roger Ebert, described the language used in the movie as "vulgar", and that "it should be rated (PG) instead of (R)". He added that, "it's the kind of movie home video was invented for. Not worth the trip to the theater". In my opinion, the trip to the theater is well worth, especially, for the EFL/ESL learners. As a non-native speaker, I believe, the language used in the movie is authentic, interesting and useful, since it is the the street language that EFL learners, in particular, cannot be exposed to in their learning environment. It gives ESL/EFL learners the opportunity to become familiar with some linguistic and cultural issues that are related to pronunciation and some culture-specific expressions.

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