When Screenwriter to Watch Justin Lader heard we were doing a 25th Anniversary Screening of My Cousin Vinny, he wanted to share with us the film’s impact on his journey as a screenwriter:
When I was a fellow at AFI studying screenwriting, a well-known producer was speaking and told a story…
It was sometime before 1992, and he was involved in the production of two movies that were being filmed simultaneously. One movie, we’ll call it Movie X, was supposed to be a surefire hit. A smash. As the dailies were coming in, the higher-ups involved were toasting one another for what they believed to be an inevitable box office sensation. The other movie in production was My Cousin Vinny. And when those dailies started to arrive, the same higher-ups hoped and prayed that the success of Movie X would recoup some of the money lost in the inevitable bomb that My Cousin Vinny was destined to be. Movie X came out and tanked. Almost all of these higher-ups lost their jobs. The ones who didn’t get fired? They were the execs who worked on My Cousin Vinny.
I love My Cousin Vinny. There are less than a handful of movies I find myself watching multiple times a year. My Cousin Vinny is on that list. I can recite the dialogue. My girlfriend and I just got a dog. His name is Pesci. And I’m one of the 15 people who actually owns the album Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You. Look it up. It’s a thing. And it’s amazing.
Dale Launer’s screenplay is brilliant. That’s an overused word that gets thrown around a lot, most of the time at things that don’t deserve it. My Cousin Vinny deserves it. The performances are so incredible that it’s easy to minimize Launer’s contribution. And that’s because the script is so good, he made it look easy. I urge everyone to read the scene when Vinny first arrives at the prison. Ralph Macchio’s Bill is sleeping so Vinny meets Stan. But Stan believes Vinny is a new inmate offering protection for sexual favors. These mistaken intentions executed through the pitch perfect miscommunication dialogue is genius. An exchange like this is so tough to pull off. It’s very easy to attempt this type of interaction, but most of the time it feels forced and phony. In this case, not only does it feel totally real, it’s some of the funniest dialogue I’ve ever read. And Launer pulls this off multiple times in the script wonderfully. I can go on and on about this screenplay. It’s masterful, and aspiring screenwriters should study it. There’s a reason why My Cousin Vinny holds up and is beloved by audiences decades after it came out. Sure, the performances are amazing; the delivery of these fish-out-of-water New Yorkers stuck in Alabama is wonderful. So it’s easy to get lost in Pesci and Tomei impressions. But the dialogue we all quote stands the test of time just as well. My Cousin Vinny is a comedy classic. And it started with an exceptional screenplay that should be considered just as classic.
Join Austin Film Festival at the Paramount Theatre for the 25th Anniversary Screening of My Cousin Vinny on June 19th. Dale Launer will join us for a special Q&A after the film! Don’t miss your chance to see the film, get your ticket today!