AFF: 'Fred and Vinnie'

The mostly true story of an almost someone and his best friend the nobody

Angelo Tsarouchas and Fred Stoller recreate a real-life friendship in 'Fred and Vinnie'
Angelo Tsarouchas and Fred Stoller recreate a real-life friendship in 'Fred and Vinnie'

You'll know Fred Stoller when you see him. He is one of Hollywood's go-to-players for 'that guy,' cornering the market on the bit part that waltzes between vacuous non-entity and off-putting nerd. But no-one has ever heard of Vinnie D'Angelo.

No reason why they should have. D'Angelo was a shut-in from the East Coast whose diet was all dollar store candy and whose life revolved around flicking through his baseball cards, getting his hair just right, and waiting for Stoller to call with stories about his life in LA.

The uncomfortable friendship between the two is the subject of Stoller's autobiographical movie. While Stoller plays himself with an understated self-criticism, ebullient stand-up Angelo Tsarouchas gears down his big persona to become lumpen man-mountain D'Angelo, who moves to Hollyweird to become an extra.

But there are no hijinks or crazy antics or awkward double dates. Instead, Stoller's quietly insightful script analyses the phenomenon of being middle-aged with a room mate. Prosaic conversations about scheduling bathroom time and who gets which closets are delivered with an easy, gentle humor. The two do not so much ricochet off each other in the cramped apartment, but rather bounce in and out of each other's orbits.

Director Steve Skrovan, who worked with Stoller as producer of Everybody Loves Raymond, may seem at first flush to have walked far away from his first feature, 2007's Ralph Nader documentary An Unreasonable Man (reviewed here.) But really he continues to examine quirky, cranky, emotionally distracted inner lives. What is more intriguing is how he evokes the charming but rundown feel of late 90s American indie tragicomedies. It is subtle, but it undoubtedly gives a sense of time and place that helps inform Vinnie's pre-Internet agoraphobic lifestyle.

While it undoubtedly taps into The Odd Couple's concept of dysfunctional buddies, Fred and Vinnie does it with pathos and depth. So many of these low-key comedies flail in their third act, launching desperately into surrealism or screwball. But instead Stoller's script stays true to its core as a character study. Stoller remains dissatisfied with his isolation, while D'Angelo remains a man-child, and the same simple dynamic is allowed to play out with an extremely tender naturalism. Because it neither sugarcoats nor satirizes their tragicomic relationship, it becomes much more of a tribute to what the two men shared.

AFF presents Fred and Vinnie: Sat. Oct 22, 6.30pm, Alamo Ritz; Tues., Oct. 25, 9.15pm, Regal Arbor.

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AFF 2011, Austin Film Festival, Fred Stoller, Everybody Loves Raymond, Fred and Vinnie, Angelo Tsarouchas, Steve Skrovan, Vinnie D'Angelo, Vinnie Deangelo

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