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The Ending Of My Cousin Vinny Explained

There are plenty of great movies about the legal profession out there, but few are as memorable and beloved as 1992's "My Cousin Vinny." Directed by Jonathan Lynn and written by Dale Launer, the film tells the story of New Yorker and aspiring lawyer Vincent LaGuardia Gambini (Joe Pesci), who travels to a small town in Alabama to help his nephew Bill (Ralph Macchio) and friend Stan Rothenstein (Mitchell Whitfield) out of a pretty serious legal jam. During a road trip from New York to California, where the two boys are set to attend college in California, they accidentally shoplift a can of tuna... and are accused of a murder in the same store, despite the fact that they definitely didn't shoot and kill the clerk at the Sack o' Suds.

With his loyal, smart-mouthed fiancée Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei, who won an Oscar for her role) by his side, Vinny, against all odds — and with local judge Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne) breathing down his neck at every turn — is triumphant, winning the case and freeing the innocent boys. In the decades since its release, the film has gained new audiences year after year, and even real-life lawyers have praised its authenticity. (Beyond that, if you're not familiar with Pesci's album where he sings in character as Vinny... you're in for a serious treat.) From Vinny's legal genius to Mona Lisa's secret skills, here's everything about the ending of "My Cousin Vinny," explained.

Vinny is actually a top-notch lawyer

Though Vinny might seem like a bumbling, inefficient would-be lawyer who barely passed the bar exam and has actual courtroom experience — a fact he has to hide from Judge Haller throughout the entire case, assuming fake names of famous lawyers — the key to the entire story is Vinny's ingenuity, razor-sharp wit, and unimpeachable instincts. Knowing full well that Bill and Stan, two perfectly nice boys, didn't kill anybody, Vinny instinctively knows that something else must be going on, and manages to raise a ton of doubt in the jury's mind despite Judge Haller's antagonistic attitude.

Throughout the trial, whether he's figuring out that one witness has terrible eyesight and another exaggerated the cooking time on grits — which completely skews the testimony — Vinny emerges triumphant, because... he's actually an excellent lawyer. As the trial progresses and he gets closer to the truth, Vinny sways the jury, earns the respect of district attorney Jim Trotter III (Lane Smith), and wins over several of the small town's residents. Ultimately, when Vinny emerges victorious, it really shouldn't come as much of a surprise, considering that he really is, as Judge Haller puts it, "one hell of a trial lawyer."

Mona Lisa is instrumental to solving the case

However, despite his desire to do so, Vinny doesn't solve the case all by himself — he needs help from his friends and loved ones, especially his fiancée Mona Lisa. Though she repeatedly offers her assistance, Vinny turns her down every time, infuriating her (especially since she and Vinny are delaying their wedding until he finally wins a case).

Vinny keeps telling Mona Lisa that he needs to win the case on his own, but in the end, Mona Lisa seriously comes through... and provides the final nail in the coffin. After Mona Lisa takes a series of photos that includes a plate of grits, Vinny in the shower, and tire tracks, Vinny realizes something crucial: the tracks, which were made by the actual murderers, couldn't have come from Bill and Stan's car. Luckily, Mona Lisa, an "out of work hairdresser" who just so happened to grow up in a family of mechanics, is a complete car expert, and provides expert testimony that Bill and Stan couldn't possibly have committed the murder — and after a brilliant hunch from Vinny, it's revealed that the killers were driving a car that looks stunningly similar to Billl and Stan's.

Vinny not only needs Mona Lisa as his final witness — he also needs her help to evade Judge Haller. Just as they prepare to leave and the judge is about to discover that Vinny has no experience, an old friend of Vinny's from New York, Judge Malloy, helps out from afar, thanks to Mona Lisa's interference. Ultimately, Vinny is a great lawyer... but he still needs help from the people around him from time to time.

"My Cousin Vinny" is available to rent or buy on major streaming platforms now.