AFF Review- Fred and Vinnie & America the Beautiful (short)

Fred and Vinnie

Long distance relationships are the greatest terrible idea ever. For romantic relationships it creates false extension of the “honeymoon phase” because they consist of longing to see the other person, the excitement of an upcoming visit, the rush of finally seeing them, a brief moment of comfort, then the dread of the visit ending. It’s completely manufactured, but it’s nice.

With friendships it’s a similar situation. You don’t talk to or see each other that often so when you do it tends to be a little more special. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, there are some friendships that work better this way.

“Fred and Vinnie” is about one of those friendships.

This is an autobiographical film written by comedian Fred Stoller, who basically plays himself. Fred is a successful enough actor/comedian who is working on a book (a diner’s guide to restaurants you don’t feel self conscious eat alone in) who is a little bit lonely. He’s not great with women, he isn’t as successful as he would like, and he isn’t a terribly social man. But among the high points of his life are the occasional phone calls with his friend Vinnie. Vinnie is a high spirited agoraphobic who hangs on Fred’s every word, revels in the stories of his every day life, and basically lives vicariously with enthusiasm through Fred’s life.

Through these phone calls you get to see Vinnie as a happy and enthusiastic friend who is content sleeping on the couch in his “cave.”

Which would be great… if he had stayed in Philly and kept their friendship a series of phone calls. But when he decides to head out to LA to try and “make it as an actor,” Fred does what any true friend would. He invites Vinnie to stay with him until he can get on his feet. The problem is, Vinnie is completely helpless and has a charm that compels you to take care of him. He is a good guy, but just a bit of a mess.

Vinnie is a collection of maddening habits. He takes dominates the bathroom every morning until his hair “looks just right,” sits on the couch all day looking at his baseball cards, he snores like a wood chipper, and has no real motivation to do much of anything else.

Fred does his best to be a good friend, but finds himself in a tough situation. What do you do when you are saddled with the sweetest, most helpless person in the world? Not only is he sweet and helpless, but is also is content with very little. All he wants is his dollar store snacks, his cigarettes, and his baseball cards.

It’s much like living with a large baby. He doesn’t work, or really have much ambition to do so, he doesn’t like going out, he wakes you up all night, and he does it all with a pure innocence. Much as you would like to, you can’t hold it against him.

Even when he tries to move out he does so in a way that makes Fred beg him to come back. It’s like when you’re in that horrible relationship that you want out of and during an argument the other person asks if you want to break up, and you do, more than anything in the world you do, but you find yourself talking them out of doing the one thing you want more than anything else in the world. Yeah, I want to end this, but not like that.

Basically “Fred and Vinnie” is about friendship and all the madness that it can bring. Vinnie is a good friend, but a bad roommate. He hangs on Fred’s every word and is utterly amazed by his moderate successes. As a voice on the phone he is the most amazing friend you could want, but sadly, he becomes something more than that voice.

“Fred and Vinnie” is a very sweet and heartfelt testament to friendship and how important the people who can occasionally drive us insane really are.

“America the Beautiful”

So, while I was in line to see “Fred and Vinnie” one of the festival volunteers asked me if I was “Nathaniel’s friend.” While I do have friends named Nathaniel it turns out that I did not know the one she was asking about.

Why did I tell you this? Well, because as she did I saw a familiar face walk past. A guy named Nathan Harlan, who I went to middle and high school with. I pointed and said, “Do you mean that Nathan? Because, yeah, I know that one.”

He was not the one she was referring to, but he recognized me and we both shared a moment slight, humorous shock at the odd coincidence. Nathan, it turns out, was there to show his short film “America the Beautiful” before the feature.

Now, I am not one to bias my reviews based on my knowing a filmmaker. This has caused some issues in the past on this site. There is nothing worse than giving a filmmaker your card and telling them to check out the review on your site… before you see their movie. I’ve done this and ended up panning the movie. It doesn’t exactly feel great. As I see it, I haven’t seen Nathan in almost 20 years, so it’s ok for me to be honest.

Well, actually it’s easy to be honest because this was a God damned riot.

Basically, Captain America is having a bad day. Come on, he’s only human. He’s dealing with a tough break up, badly. His apartment is a mess, he’s drinking too much, and he’s wearing dirty underwear and a filthy bathrobe.

We hear about his downfall as he listens to his voicemail, falling deeper into depression as the messages play. This is a strange, but very entertaining short and highly original short. Honestly, there are so many shitty short films out there that it is really refreshing to come across one that is actually really good, so hunt this thing down and check it out.


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