Judge Daryl Loomis keeps his enemies close and his friends far, far away.
Sometimes the best friendships are long distance.
Fred Stoller isn't a name that many will recognize, but if you're one of those people who pays attention to the background characters in your entertainment, you might well recognize his face. As he describes it, he's the guy who makes deliveries. More broadly, though, he's in the background of countless television shows from Suddenly Susan to Murphy Brown and quite a number of films, as well; he's the neurotic guy who's doing something. Though he has had few starring roles over a fairly long career, he shows some pretty fair chops, at least when playing himself, in Fred & Vinnie, an uncomfortable and autobiographical comedy showcase for the actor.
Facts of the Case
Fred (Stoller) doesn't have a lot going on in his life, with few acting gigs and even fewer meaningful relationships. He tries therapy and tries to date, but it's all awful. He does, however, have Vinnie (Angelo Tsarouchas, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle), an obese agoraphobic vegetarian who lives in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. They talk often on the phone and, though Fred's life is utterly mundane, his stories about the post office and the grocery store thrill Vinnie to no end. When Vinnie announces one day that he's moving to Los Angeles, Fred offers to put him up, only to discover that some friends are better left in another state.
Fred & Vinnie is a sweet story about friendship I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy, despite its obvious charms. I'm positive there will be plenty of people who like it, and I can appreciate what it brings to the table. But I'm someone who doesn't have a lot of patience for shows like Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and this strikes me the same way.
The neurotic doing neurotic things is not particularly appealing to me, especially when these neuroses are surrounded by a story determined to be "real life." A show about nothing is just that, and I don't really care to watch it. Now, in the case of Fred & Vinnie, there actually is plenty of real life in the story, as it's based on a real relationship Stoller had with an actual recluse named Vinnie. I don't know how much is true and how much is fiction, but the lives are so ordinary that I have to assume that much of what's in the story happened. The problem is, though I often succeed at liking movies with both feet firmly in reality, I'm a genre kid at heart; stories like this, as it is with my own life and my own neuroses, all make me weary.
That's not to say the movie doesn't have its charms, because on an objective level, there are many things to like about it. The direction by Steve Skrovan (An Unreasonable Man) is quite good, clear and confident without drawing any attention to itself. It doesn't move as quickly as I would have liked, but there's plenty of emotion and he gets really great performances out of the lead actors. Stoller and Tsarouchas have excellent chemistry and deliver entirely realistic portrayals of their characters. Stoller's playing at least a version of himself, but the two make a fine team, and the inclusion of a few other character actors like Fred Willard (Best in Show) is a really nice touch.
There are a number of genuinely funny moments in the film, too, such as when Fred is on a date with a woman who disgustedly describes the grunting, straining noises cats make when they go to the bathroom and the pair of psychologists who combine to sit with one patient and disagree on every point the other makes. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of these bits of strong comedy for me to really recommend the film that highly, but I'm certain there will be plenty who appreciate Fred & Vinnie much more than I.
Horizon delivers Fred & Vinnie in a solid DVD release that does a film of this stature and budget plenty of justice. The 2.35:1 image transfer looks strong. There's a little bit of fuzziness in some of the darker scenes, but the rest of it is very clear. The flesh tones are realistic and the colors are well-saturated. It's not an expensive looking picture by any means, but it does the job just fine. The sound, for what it is, gets along pretty nicely, as well. It's a simple stereo mix, but the dialog is perfectly clear and there's no background noise to speak of. Anything larger or more dynamic wouldn't fit the size of the film, so this is perfectly acceptable.
Bonus features are relatively plentiful. The disc starts with a pair of deleted scenes that expand on a brief gag about a bongo player in the building. While totally unnecessary to the overall story, they're about two minutes together, pretty funny, and would have served as another much needed joke. An interview with Stoller and Skrovan from the film's Slamdance premiere is short, but fairly interesting. Following that is footage of Angelo Tsarouchas's audition, where he demonstrates how solidly he understands the Vinnie character from the word go. The strangest, but completely appropriate feature is a seventeen minute montage of Vinnie's real answering machine tapes, which show how close the character is to the real person, though that doesn't make them any more fun to listen to than one's own phone conversation.
For fans of shows like Everybody Loves Raymond, I'm confident you'll have a positive reaction to Fred & Vinnie. It's charming, well-acted, and occasionally very funny, but the film's "about nothing" plot just wore me out.
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