Logan’s Moving Pictures is back with a look at a family legend named Uncle Bink and a film not discussed enough and Logan goes hard on this one, you’ll have to read to find out which way he goes with My Cousin Vinny
Somewhere in the wasteland between Christmas of 2021 and New Year’s Day of 2022 my Father lost his last remaining brother, Grover Guy Polk, Jr., the man we collectively and affectionately knew as Uncle Bink. Nicknamed, as family legend goes, for his love of Binky pacifiers as a baby, my uncle was a man of mysteries, but not always the kind that kept you intrigued. Often they would leave you just on the other side of frustrated, wondering why or how he’d conjured up the story he’d been spinning. That revelation, however, only came to my brother and I as we got older.
As kids, we found my Uncle Bink endlessly fascinating and larger than life. Which, if you knew him is kind of funny. He wasn’t a statuesque man at all; he was quite short and just a tad pudgy for most of his adult life. As a kid, I didn’t understand where his bit of a belly came from, but as an adult, I would discover that he was quite the beer drinker, just not around his family.
He had a mustache that would make Tom Sellick proud, at least in my memories, and a sense of humour that went from bawdy to silly and back before you could even comprehend the jokes he was telling. He loved sports, especially the local kind; before he moved to Oklahoma he was a huge supporter of our hometown hockey team, and he spent a chunk of my childhood coaching baseball with his two brothers, Ernie (my father) and Glen (who passed away in 2016). There were many weekends of our youth spent sitting at a table playing board games or opening packs of trading cards listening to the three of them tell stories of their childhood or talking about their time spent coaching.
Bink loved a good movie; specifically, he loved to go sit in a dark theatre, stuff his face with junk and soda, then promptly fall asleep 45 minutes into it. I was lucky enough to see a few films with him that he managed to make it all the way through though. One was Barb Wire, and I can hear the collective groans of the people who have seen it. But he loved Pam Anderson, so, what can you do? The other was Batman Forever, which I think we saw three or four times in the theatre.
I don’t know what fascinated us so much about that film, but for that entire summer, we were riveted. We bought merchandise, tons of the trading cards, the soundtrack, toys, and whatever fast food joint was promoting it got our dollars so we could get the collectibles…we were all in on that movie. People will bash it endlessly, but we just loved it. It still has a very special place in my heart, but that’s not the movie we’re here to talk about.
No, in the wake of his death there was only one film that kept pulling at me, possibly because I’d recently come across it in my brother’s VHS collection, or because in that void of a week I’d rewatched the episode of Seinfeld where George attempts to wrangle a date with Marissa Tomei, or possibly because I’d just seen her give a home run performance as Aunt May in Spider-Man: No Way Home. Either way, shortly after I got the call that Bink had passed, all I could think about was watching My Cousin Vinny.
I hesitate to call Vinny my Uncle’s favorite film, but I’d wager it was his most-watched. Certainly, it was one of the movies he turned to when he needed that specific kind of pick-me-up, and he wasn’t really alone in that. Both of his brothers shared a massive love for this movie, and by proxy my siblings, my cousins, and I adored it as well. So, I sat down to revisit it in the wake of his death…and what I say next is, yes, written by someone dwelling in both nostalgia and grief, but I don’t know that it makes it any less true.
My Cousin Vinny is a perfect film.
From top to bottom. The script, the dialogue, the performances, the cinematography, the direction, the music, the score; it’s perfect. All of it. There isn’t a single misstep in the whole movie. Not only was Tomei’s Oscar win hands down the right choice, Pesci’s performance deserved recognition as well, and arguably was better than Pacino’s turn in Scent of a Woman, which won that year (Al was also nominated in the Supporting Actor category for Glengarry Glenross, which is where he should have taken the gold). Blending the two prominent sides of his acting career, the fast-talking mobster and the slapstick-y comedian, Vinny is Pesci at his absolute finest. I won’t go as far to say it should have taken Best Picture, but I think the nomination should have come; while its courtroom scenes aren’t anything as tense and dramatic as A Few Good Men’s, I think they’re just as entertaining, and I think it’s a movie that’s held up better than Scent of a Woman for sure.
There’s something more to it though. Something I never really latched onto or understood until this most recent rewatch. This isn’t just a comedy of errors, it isn’t just a big-city meets yokel yuckfest, a north vs. south oh-how-different-we-are comparison, it’s so much more than those things. In my twenty years of watching this film, I would have never said that it was anything more than a funny movie, but it is. Wrapped in all of its hilarious packaging, My Cousin Vinny is a unique and brilliant statement on the concept of identity. How we see ourselves, how we see others, how others see us, and, most of all, how we want others to see us.
I think those concepts are something my Uncle Bink wrestled with his entire life, and whether he knew it or not, it may be why he was so drawn to this movie.
Vinny rolls into the South ready to dismiss most of the people he encounters, yet he’s equally eager to both fit in and impress. All of this gets encapsulated in his very first scene, where he bags on his fiancée Lisa for sticking out, brags that he fits in because of his cowboy boots, and mocks a local that tries to explain to him the phrase “mud in your tire.” Throughout you see Vinny weaving stories to impress both the judge and the prosecuting attorney, and you’re never really sure what is and isn’t true, only that you WANT to believe him. Meanwhile, we see him go from cocky to completely unsure of himself outside of the courtroom, arguing with Lisa that he knows what he’s doing and then finally admitting he’s in over his head.
But it doesn’t all just play out with Vinny; the judge, sheriff, and prosecutor all make their own assumptions about the outsiders, most of which are aided by their haughty tone and mannerisms, which don’t usually play well when you’re a stranger in a strange land. Equally, as a viewer you set yourself up to be solely on Vinny’s side; you know the kids are innocent and you know he’s right, so therefore all of those other people are the antagonists and you shouldn’t like them. Except that you do. Not a single one of them does anything sinister or deceiving. The only person deceiving anyone is, in fact, Vinny.
What’s amazing is how deftly and subtly the movie takes every single character we meet and shows them to be more complex than your initial judgments of them. From Bill and Stan, the two kids wrongly accused of murder, to the uber-confident witnesses and the second defense attorney, all of whom let their own egos betray the truth of who they are. It’s a story with no bad guys, only good guys who are so wrapped up in judgments and perspectives that they can’t clearly communicate with each other.
Everyone so badly wants to not only be the hero of their own story but to also feel they contributed something important into the narrative of someone else’s life. Unfortunately, that usually comes at the detriment of other people, and it’s a consequence enough of us don’t consider when we’re making our bid to be seen as valuable.
Truth, like identity, is such a tricky thing. They aren’t singular, flat concepts. They’re multifaceted, often with more sides than we’d ever care to ever acknowledge. Wading through grief has helped me understand that more clearly than I ever did before. We all want to be more than we are, and for a lot of people that means embellishing a lot of aspects of their life, trying to create truths out of falsehoods. I know that my Uncle was one of those people, and at times in my life I would have just labeled him a liar. But that is such a singular, flat term, and it doesn’t really describe who he was for so many people. That’s not the man I was often in awe of as a kid.
The man who told us he had a date with ‘80s rock goddess Lita Ford. The man who claimed to have driven Ric Flair around in a limo and had the phone numbers of every major wrestler in the early ‘90s. The man who scored my brother and I tickets to our first concert. The man that drove a T-Top Thunderbird and was friends with every local radio DJ (when those were still a thing). The man we thought was just about the coolest person we knew at nine years old.
Songwriter/composer Nathan Johnson wrote a song for one of my favorite films, The Brothers Bloom, called The Fabulist. It’s a term I’d never heard before, and one that intrigued me when I saw the title, so I listened to an interview where he defined it as just a person that liked to tell stories, tall tales really. Of course, I had to look up the definition, and I saw one of them was “liar,” but it embodies so much more than that, and I think the song says it best when he sings
“It was fake
For the Sake
Of making you take me for real,”
My Uncle Bink was a Fabulist, and I like to think that he and Vinny would have been the best of friends.