A Grit-ty Lawyer
by Dain Ruiz
Jonathan Lynn’s My Cousin Vinny (1992) is a comedy film that chronicles the court case of two young men being tried for a murder they didn’t do. The film follows Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci), a newly licensed personal injury lawyer from New York and the cousin of one of the men on trial, as he represents the two in his first-ever court case. As the trial proceeds, Vinny and his fiancee, Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei), run into problem after problem with the court and the Alabama community all while the lives of these two men are in his hands.
In the scene above, Vinny and Mona Lisa walk into a local restaurant to order breakfast. After opening the menu, only three options are available: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. Vinnie orders two Breakfasts and the server immediately dumps a baseball-sized amount of lard onto the grill. When the dish is served drowning in grease, Vinny immediately questions the server about one of the foods on his plate. The server explains that the food is grits and Vinny and Mona Lisa are bewildered. Vinny asked the server what grits are, and he explained that it’s made of corn and needs to be soaked for 15-20 minutes before being topped with butter and served.
The relationship between this film and food is through the idea of bridging two different cultures through shared food experiences, similar to the “Hot Dog Bridge” painting by Russel T. Gordon. When a witness on the stand claims that the murder took place between a five-minute interval while he was cooking grits, Vinny calls upon the jury to question the timeline of when this murder took place. After learning that grits should be cooked for 15-20 minutes during breakfast, he connects with the jury by calling upon their past experiences cooking grits to fully establish a timeline of when this murder could have occurred. Vinny, an Italian-American from New York, has to learn about traditional southern foods to fully connect with his jury and sway their verdict in favor of his clients. Food acts as a bridge between the two cultures, Vinny’s culture and the South, and allows Vinny to relate to people so different from himself and eventually get the verdict he needs to save his cousin and his friend.
Hot Dog Bridge, Russell T. Gordon, 1974, Color Lithograph, Gift of Dr. Christopher A. Graf and Janet Graf, his wife, Object #: 74.28.12.
My Cousin Vinny. Dir. Jonathan Lynn. Perf. Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei. 20th Century Studios, 1992.