“This is pretty much a true story,” we’re told at the beginning of Steve Skrovan’s Fred and Vinnie, and we can see why. Character actor and “Oh, that guy” extraordinaire Fred Stoller plays Fred Stoller, a lonely character actor in Los Angeles. His neighbors are annoying, the bit parts are few and far between, and he has a perpetual grimace, which makes him look like he’s always staring into the sun, so the ladies aren’t exactly rolling in on a conveyor belt. At a free walk-in clinic, Fred tells a therapist that he feels isolated and gets written off after five minutes.
But it’s the little joys in life, like the lovely, rare date with a woman who calls him a pussy for signaling before merging, that keep Fred afloat. Most of all, though, he has his buddy Vinnie (Angelo Tsarouchas), an equally isolated shut-in several states away with whom Fred shares stories about his “adventures” — at the laundromat, the grocery store, the bank. It’s all new to Vinnie, so he cracks up, big and loud, the kind of laugh that can only come from someone truly enjoying the moment. They crack up together. Vinnie can’t believe Fred’s life. It’s crazy.
One day, Vinnie tells Fred that he’s moving to LA to see him and maybe crash there for a while. His beloved pet bird died (plus, you know, he got evicted), so it lit a fire under him. He doesn’t want to just live vicariously anymore. Vinnie wants to see it and breathe it. Fred happily welcomes him because it’s the kind of change he needs, too. Plus, what are friends for? It won’t be for long because Vinnie will get a job soon. He’s not gonna be in the way. It’ll be like he’s not even there … there are tombstones with such things written on them.
Skrovan and his cast and crew (Stoller wrote the screenplay, too) manage a delicate balancing act that becomes more affecting as the minutes lazily tick by. The editing is sharp, the actors are as disarming as sad sacks and obsessives can be, and the story has an easy charm. Nobody really understands Fred and Vinnie’s dynamic. What the hell kind of adventure is the laundromat? “Eh, you don’t understand,” Fred tells his neighbors, who think Vinnie is taking advantage of his kindness and patience.
Well, Vinnie is doing that, but it’s not so clear as that, either. He dreams big (“Just get me on a set. I’ll do anything.”) and considers himself sociable and considerate. When the stress gets to Fred, Vinnie — knowing that he’s the source of the anxiety and aggravation — almost runs himself out of the apartment. He punishes himself but tries hard to be a good friend.
Fred’s writing a city guidebook between jobs: Restaurants You Don’t Feel Self-Conscious Eating Alone At. His own idea for a restaurant is called Solo’s, where you don’t have to see or talk to anyone else. There’s a market for just about anything, but when he pitches the book, which is declared ridiculous, he makes a fool of himself. But Vinnie thought it sounded great.
Fred and Vinnie plays like the The Odd Couple cut by the weirdness of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, though it’s not as acerbic as the latter. This movie’s genial and slight but absorbing. It has the tough job of exploring the murky intersection between friends who love each other yet don’t really get along when they’re right in each other’s faces. It has unexpected nuance and a lot of humor, driven by two fantastic leads.
Fred and Vinnie is presented by the Park Circle Film Society. It will play at 7 p.m. on July 30 in North Charleston.