Thursday, 31 March 2011

March Bloodstones: Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny

I wasn’t certain how to end this semi-retrospective month on courageous cinematic woman. I wasn’t going for the typical Erin Brockoviches and Norma Raes (great courageous women, though) – and I decided I’d end up a lighter, but just as significant note. There really is nothing “courageous” about winning an Oscar – but I like to think that experiencing deep loathing by more than a few cinephiles for her “stolen” Oscar Marisa Tomei has managed to match the greatness of her first great performances once, twice and even thrice again. She’s a consummate supporting actress, and her scene stealing Mona Lisa Vito is a perfect encapsulation of the courageous female sidekick.
My Cousin Vinny is such a forgotten gem, one of those great nineties’ comedies that manages to retain its humour on multiple viewings. The fact that Mona is tagging along with Vinny for his foray into “real” always strikes me as evident as her tenacity. Marisa is so good at characterising her I can almost imagine a scene in New York where she’s doing another monologue at Vinny convincing him that she HAS to tag alone. She’s knows full well that he’s sort of an idiot, and she knows she’s smarter than he gives her credit for. She doesn’t care, though, she’s tagging along because she knows he needs her – complete with her scoffing glares at the town. I immediately love her from the line-reading “You’re famous for your mud?”
I feel a bit bad that my favourite scene of Marisa’s isn’t notable for her courage, but as soon as she starts talking about her biological clock in that outlandish, ferocious cat suit I cannot help but give her rapt attention.
Marisa is a terribly physical actress (watch her brilliant final scene in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead) and having her unconfined and able to pace around is a reason that scene always pops. It’s comedy, garish at times and even in broad strokes but she keeps on managing to retain that sincerity which is so elusive in pieces like this.
We’re never absolutely certain what she sees in Vinny, but the way that she defends him always impresses. Not only in the context of her being a supportive spouse, but as silly as he is Mona casts her bets on him, but more than she actively ensures that he’s able to be successful. She’s the type of supporting girlfriend who doesn’t get pithy moments of expressing love often, but in those rare softer scene she still retains her individuality and strength, most importantly she never “dumbs” herself down for him.

So, it’s as if we’re waiting for that brilliant cross-examination scene.
She’s so good with the rapid dialogue, and so brilliant against Pesci so as she literally shoots off the solution we think that even though the film is named for her man this movie is all about Mona Lisa....and that the thing about cinematic women of courage. When they appear on screen, it’s difficult to look at anyone else – least of all the men.
This marks the end of the Bloodstones of March who included:
Deanie Loomis in Splendor in the Grass
Margaret and Helen Schlegel in Howards End
Francine Evans in New York/New York
Shoshanna and Bridget von Hammersmark in Inglourious Basterds
Rita O’Grady, Lisa Hopkins and Barbara Castle in Made in Dagenham
Mona Lisa Vito in My Cousin Vinny
Am I the only one who loves Marisa's Mona Lisa?


Robert said...

Ah! Great post, you're so right - it's named after Vinny but Mona Lisa is by far the star of the show. I love Marisa Tomei SO much in this movie - she's funny, touching, and just simply perfect.

Candice Frederick said...

definitely a fun performance. i think i love the scene where she's upon the stand at th end the most. it's brains and beauty, and shows just how much she and vinny are in love.

Nicholas Prigge said...

Take a bow, sir. I love this thought: "I can almost imagine a scene in New York where she’s doing another monologue at Vinny convincing him that she HAS to tag alone."

Any thoughts on Lady Gaga saying Marisa should play her? You know she could do it.

Brandon said...

Mona Lisa kicks some serious ass!

Sassy, sweet, sexy, and strong -- can you ask for much else?

The reason why the performance is so great is because Marisa gives life and radiance to a flat character on the page used as a foil. I love that she makes Lisa intelligent and independent, but still maintaining an appealing lightness and verve. It's also interesting to note that the script doesn't give Mona Lisa any kind of "arc/journey", but Tomei charts her change throughout to the point that she becomes the central heroine of the movie and saves the day.

A real scene lifter (as opposed to scene stealer); she may own the film, but she elevates it beautifully.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

robert simply perfect indeed. she's not my fave of the lot (redgrave) or of the year (bonham carter), but how can you not appreciate her worth?

candice "you think i'm hostile now, wait till you see me tonight?" she's IS great there.

nicholas WHAT? i TOTALLY want to see that, why can't marisa ever get a leading role?

brandon yes, she's not a selfish actor at all.

anahita said...

One of my all time favourite films - in my top 5 at least. Absolutely ADORE marisa tomei in this and am so so excited to find someone else on the blogosphere who has seen this, never mind that you liked it!! :D xx