Most movies don’t warrant a sequel. My Cousin Vinny isn’t one of them. The 1992 comedy classic features Marisa Tomei’s Oscar-winning performance, Joe Pesci’s best role and a classic blend of New York and southern humor. If any film deserves a next chapter, that one does.
Thanks to author Lawrence Kelter, we’ve got one.
Kelter is the author of Back to Brooklyn, the official sequel to My Cousin Vinny and the first in a series of novels extending the Gambini saga.
A Brooklyn native, Kelter fell in love with the movie when it first hit theaters. He found himself constantly quoting lines from the movie and falling into Pesci’s heavy New York Italian accent. More than 20 years after it’s release, he still gets glued to the television whenever My Cousin Vinny shows up on cable.
“If I’m doing work and the TV’s on, and all the sudden I hear ‘yeah, you blend,’ that’s it,” he says. “I need to stop what I’m doing. If I have to go somewhere, I know I’m going to be late because I get pulled in by the movie.”
It’s an easy movie to get hooked on. Pesci’s Vincent Gambini, a Brooklyn lawyer with no trial experience, is called to represent his younger cousin Billy (Ralph Macchio) when he and a friend are falsely accused of murder in Alabama. He brings along his fiancee, Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei), and together they work to solve the case as they stick out like sore thumbs in the Deep South.
After watching it countless times, Kelter wanted to pay his respects. He reached out to the movie’s producer and screenwriter, Dale Launer, to tell him just how much he loved My Cousin Vinny and the way it had stayed with him over the years. To Kelter’s surprise, Launer responded.
“He wrote back very quickly, and not just a short thank you,” Kelter said. “He sent me a long email telling me about the movie and how he appreciates the fact that I’m still enjoying it, production details, things like that.”
Eventually their email correspondence turned into long phone conversations about Launer’s career in Hollywood, other projects, and of course, My Cousin Vinny. Launer read a few of Kelter’s books and found his writing amusing. It was then that the idea for the sequel came about.
“He told me how he always wanted Vinny (Pesci) and Lisa (Tomei) to have more of a life that didn’t end with the movie,” Kelter says. “He wanted them to be like a Nick and Nora detective team where she does the investigating and he does the litigation.”
“So I thought, why don’t I write a couple books?”
Kelter has authored and co-authored several novels, but Back to Brooklyn is his first foray into the comedy genre, which provides a unique challenge for a seasoned novelist.
“When you’re writing a regular novel you’re really just trying to advance the plot,” he says. “When you’re writing a comedy like this, you take a little poetic license to create comedic scenes that aren’t necessary for advancing the plot, but you know will make the reader laugh.”
Kelter aimed to plot a book that had the same comedic feel as My Cousin Vinny, but felt original. He had to touch on Lisa’s car knowledge and Vinny’s status as a struggling lawyer, but couldn’t fall back on the same plot points. He also had to figure out how to replicate their voices.
One advantage for a novelist is that the characters they create don’t already exist—this leaves both the author and reader creative license to portray and imagine the characters as they see fit. Kelter, on the other hand, had to figure out how to recreate characters that had already been established visually—a difficult task, given Vinny and Lisa’s outsized personalities and quick interactions.
In the movie, Vinny and Lisa often go back and forth, insulting one another as they bicker about hunting or biological clocks. There’s nothing particularly mean spirited about the tit-for-tat, but Kelter says it was difficult to portray it without making it seem like an argument.
“People have told me that they’re hearing the words come right out of Joe’s and Marisa’s mouths,” Kelter says. “They feel like I’ve really stayed true to the characters, that their dialogue is accurate, that their temperaments are accurate.”
The book has received positive reviews, currently boasting a 4.7 out of 5 star rating on Amazon. Launer enjoyed the book, as did Ralph Macchio, with whom Kelter held several conversations about the movie (including a story about how Will Smith was nearly cast as Stan Rothenstein).
That kind of insider info and positive book reviews are a bonus, but for Kelter, adding to a creative work that he loves has been a singular reward.
“It’s the most fun I ever had sitting behind a keyboard.”