Well, well…maybe not the most famous win in this category but surely the most infamous – it even comes with its own urban legend. But why was it such a big upset that Marisa Tomei received the Oscar? Sure, she did not receive any other awards attention, her competition were 3 serious British and 1 serious Australian actresses, My Cousin Vinny isn’t exactly a masterpiece – still, the Academy has more than once honored actors and actresses for scene-stealing comedy. So why was it okay for Whoopi Goldberg to win an Oscar for a purely comedic role just two years earlier but not for Marisa Tomei? I guess we will never know but what is so great is the fact that Marisa Tomei is one of the few people who actually survived the ‘Oscar curse’ – her post-Oscar career had first gone rather downhill but by now she has turned into a respected actress with two more nominations to display her talents.
Anyway, as you can see I don’t share the general attitude that her win is one of the most undeserved ever. Why should it be? Marisa Tomei is absolutely hilarious and steals the movie right from under everybody’s noses. Sure, Mona-Lisa is not actually a very complex character and one little scene in a restaurant that is supposed to show a more serious side when Vinny attacks her verbally isn’t exactly very memorable either but when it comes to making the audience laugh and creating one unforgettable comedy scene after another, you don’t need to look any further.
The character of Mona-Lisa does not really allow a deeper look or something like that – she is there to support Vinny in a case and throw around funny remarks. It’s a stereotypical performance from every angle but when Marisa Tomei delivers lines like ‘How’s your Chinese food?’ or ‘What are you? A f**king world traveler?’ it’s easy to forget about all this. There are no real emotions, the more quiet moments between her and Vinny are less than satisfying but Marisa Tomei is such a force of nature (yes) in this role that everything else seems to disappear next to her.
When you think of My Cousin Vinny, isn’t she the first aspect that comes to your head? Don’t you immediately think of ‘Imagine you’re a deer. You’re thirsty…You put your little nose in the cool water…BAM! A F**KING BULLET BLOWS OFF PART OF YOUR HEAD!’ or ‘My biological clock is ticking like this!’?
Of course Mona-Lisa was only invented by the writers to have at least one female presence in the story, to throw in some jokes and to use her for the final scenes in the court room – but Marisa Tomei never allowed the character to be reduced in any way but instead made her larger than the whole remaining cast. And speaking of the scene in the court room – could Marisa Tomei have been any more perfect here?
So, the character of Mona-Lisa is certainly among the least challenging in this category but Marisa Tomei used her talent for comedy in so many glorious ways that it’s easy to forget about this the first time she enters the screen.