Directed by: Jamie Babbit
Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Judy Greer, Aubrey Plaza, Fred Amisan
In Addicted to Fresno, recovering sex addict Shannon (Judy Greer) works as a maid alongside her protective sister, Martha (Natasha Lyonne). Shannon’s life is going well until she accidentally kills a man and the sisters have to cover it up. Hilarity ensues, or that’s what the filmmakers wanted to happen.
Fresno isn’t a funny movie, with the jokes stalling the scenes and creating this stop-start rhythm that pulls the audience out of film. Karey Dornetto’s horrendous script tries too hard to be funny and is too predictable, often playing like a failed television pilot for an hour-long sitcom. When the funniest moment is a 13-year-old boy rapping about Hitler and the Holocaust at his Bar Mitzvah, you should know your film has problems.
However, the film is a showcase of how to portray homosexual relationships. Martha’s blossoming relationship with Kelly (Aubrey Plaza) is just there, never to be fussed over, never to be laughed at and never showy or pointed. This is a refreshing change of pace for an American movie with Jamie Babbit’s (But I’m a Cheerleader, HBO’s GIRLS) direction being the prime reason for this step forward.
Babbit directs with an assured and efficient hand, using simple shots of Fresno during the opening credits to convey why Shannon hates the place and why Martha never left. But, this efficiency leads to problems further down the road as the direction lacks style and is rather plodding. Her overall direction lives up to Variety’s “director to watch” label as there are moments of brilliance amongst the pedestrian. Fresno is at its core a story about sisters. Not the gushy, sisters-before-misters type of sisterhood but a decaying, dying relationship that neither sister is particularly interested in saving beyond what they think is their blood-bound duty. Both Lyonne and Greer give it their best efforts but they can’t stop the car from crashing.
Greer, playing against her recent concerned mother roles or her sitcom scene stealer personality, delivers her lines with a acidic glee but the film makes the mistake of thinking that supposedly witty, but actually terrible barbs, will make Shannon sympathetic. She remains throughout the movie entirely unlikable and her inevitable moment of redemption would not register on the most acute sentimentality seismometer. Lyonne’s performance suits Martha’s maternal personality with it being clear why she puts up with and supports Shannon. Yet, Martha is too passive to care about and by continually giving Shannon second chances she fails to remain likeable. The supporting cast seem to be asleep during their performances with Allison Tolman (Fargo TV series) seemingly glancing off camera waiting for her agent to come along and get her back to Minnesota.
It’s great to see a film about women written by a woman, directed by a woman, and starring women. To that extent Fresno is a rare and fresh film. It’s just a shame that that freshness didn’t extend to the script, as the comedy is as successful as Willie E. Coyote is at catching the Road Runner.