"My Cousin Vinny" is a comedic look at the legal system. I am a great believer in the learning potential resident in comedy (as one may deduce from the posts in this blog). I also embrace the concept of extending learning opportunities beyond the time, space, and format confines of the classroom. When properly guided, watching a movie is likely a far richer and more effective learning experience for students than reading a textbook. Certainly, it is a more enjoyable experience - which helps contribute to the assignment's success.
Plot summaries are available here. Reviews are available here. This is a fabulously funny movie. But don't let its comedic presentation trivialize its educational value. I use this movie as a "flex assignment." "Guided Viewing Questions" are posted on line for the students to read prior to watching the movie (please feel free to e-mail me for a copy if you want one). I leave a DVD copy on reserve in the library but most students choose to use their Netflicks accounts or other download services to watch the movie on their laptops. After watching the movie, students may submit a short (250 word) reaction on line to earn points toward their grade. The reaction is supposed to include what the student learned about the legal system from watching this movie. In anticipation of writing this post, I took particular care to note students' responses. Once again, I was reminded of how little experience undergraduate law students posess about the legal system. It is the quality that makes teaching undergraduates simultaneously rewarding and bewildering. Here is a sample of reaction statements (paraphrased):
"I never knew that . . .
. . . evidence was so important in proving a case in court."
. . . judges were so involved in trials. I thought that juries did all the work."
. . . eyewitnesses could be mistaken."
. . . experts could testify about important information."
. . . that judges got to decide if a witness could testify or not."
. . . that coutroom rules were so important in trials."
. . . that police can make mistakes."
. . . that an innocent person could come so close to being proven guilty in court."
And, "I saw this movie before and thought it was just a funny movie. Now after learning about trials in class, I see how it all fits together and how important trials are."
While all of this may have been covered in class and written in the textbook, there is a point where lecture can begin to sound like, ". . . blah, blah, blah . . ." In its uniquely entertaining way, My Cousin Vinny does the job of contributing to student understanding about the legal system.
Sample video clips: