Favorite Fictional Characters, #174: Mona Lisa Vito
Updated: Jan 28
1992's My Cousin Vinny is a fun, predictable little movie, with Karate Kid Ralph Macchio clinging to the last vestiges of his cinematic relevance and wiseguy Joe Pesci capitalizing on the height of his. It works, in part because of a stellar supporting cast, including gravel-throated Fred Gwynne as the irascible rural judge (his final role). But let's not kid ourselves - the real luminosity here is 28-year old Marisa Tomei in her breakout (and Oscar-winning) turn as Mona Lisa Vito.
This is when all of us (George Costanza included) fell in love with Tomei. Vito is pitch perfect as the long-suffering, marriage-starved girlfriend of Pesci's evasive Vincent LaGuardia Gambini. Even as her biological clock ticks-like-this she stands by her pugnacious little man, helping him even as he shuns her aid. It's pretty obvious that Mona Lisa is smarter than Vinny, setting aside the stunning eidetic automotive memory she displays in the courtroom. She's more practical as well, though every bit as fiery. There's even chemistry between Pesci and Tomei, despite the two-decade difference in their ages. Her flamboyance of dress and speech and gesture echo his, as together they scandalize and endure the small-town purgatory where the trial takes place. And yet she charms them all, and eventually emerges as Vinny's secret weapon.