“Pretty much a true story,” according to its opening credits, “Fred and Vinnie” gently fictionalizes the “Odd Couple”-style screwball-comic relationship between rail-thin actor-screenwriter Fred Stoller and his vastly overweight pal, the late Vinnie D’Angelo (beautifully played in the pic by Angelo Tsarouchas). Stoller, a frequent sitcom guest star and former “Seinfeld” staff writer, comes off as a cross between Joe Mantegna and Steve Buscemi, his character seeming the quintessential schlub when Vinnie, a kindred agoraphobe and accomplished freeloader, comes to Los Angeles for a visit and stays a short eternity. Witty and heartfelt, this modest indie surely deserves an audience.
Lonely as the day is long, middle-aged comedian Fred flails hilariously in his furtive attempts to connect with women while suffering failed acting auditions and struggling to finish penning the treatise “Restaurants You Don’t Feel Self-Conscious Eating Alone At.” He’s naturally excited when his long-distance phone pal Vinnie, the most appreciative audience member Fred has ever had, reports that he’s just been evicted from his Philly attic apartment and would like to come and crash with him in L.A., where he hopes to find bottom-feeding work in Hollywood.
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Little does Fred know that 350-pound Vinnie, the self-described “fattest vegetarian in the world,” eats candy by the bushel, snores like a roaring grizzly bear and generally declines invitations to leave the house. Rarely more than an inch away from his most prized possession, a three-ring binder full of vintage baseball cards, the bushy-bearded Vinnie gradually wears out his welcome with Fred while fully endearing himself to the viewer, thanks largely to Tsarouchas’ lovably deadpan portrayal. Throughout, the movie displays a keen and ultimately poignant understanding of a loner’s self-imposed isolation as well as his intermittent yearning for connection.
Director Steve Skrovan (who made the Ralph Nader docu “An Unreasonable Man”) favors simple setups that shrewdly accentuate the real-life dimensions of Stoller’s screenplay. Supporting characters too often appear more abrasively shrill than humorous, although the comic interplay between Stoller and Tsarouchas is more than deft enough to keep the film grounded. While production values are exceedingly lean, the movie is sharply rendered on all counts, with Jason J. Tomaric’s aptly claustrophobic videography a particular standout.