Double feature: The surface similarities between “My Cousin Vinny” and “My Blue Heaven” are easy to spot: both feature Italian-American stereotypes unleashed upon prototypically white-bread milieus, for broad comic effect. Both entangle their protagonists – sartorially inclined toward flashy suits, tonsorially favoring glossy pompadours, romantically susceptible to compact spitfires – with local authorities, setting the stage for convoluted but ultimately triumphant hijinks.
Deeper interest can be found in contemplating the real nature, and broader significance, of these entanglements and triumphs. On one level, they are straightforward victories of smooth-talking wiseguys over the unsuspecting and naively credulous. But on a more macro level, they represent the battle between the city and the country during a period when the former’s conquest over the latter was not yet a sociologically-supported foregone conclusion.
In these two fish-out-of-water tales, it is the protagonists’ urbanity, more than their cultural background, that renders them so conspicuous (and miserable) in the rural/suburban environments in which they find themselves. These characters’ expectations – of availability, ubiquity, savvy – are quintessentially urban ones, inevitably frustrated by locales in which shelves are stocked, menus are composed, and lodgings are outfitted per local customs rather than global tastes.
Now that myriad technological and cultural forces have effectively urbanized national expectations, changing the landscape of desire across all manner of terrain, the question must be asked: what kind of future does the fish-out-of-water tale have in a world in which some version of that metaphorical water is everywhere, or at least a mouse click away?
For a marathon: Counterbalance these metropolitan victories with “Baby Boom,” a sweet and disarmingly fresh depiction of a dyed-in-the-wool urbanite succumbing to the charms of rural life.
(Creative Commons licensed original images courtesy of “Flickred!” and “jk5854” at Flickr)