Settling down with some half decent, homemade popcorn and the promise of entertainment, I recently plunged into the world of Jaime Babbit’s new dark comedy – Addicted to Fresno. The movie follows the story of Shannon (Judy Greer) and Martha (Natasha Lyonne), two sisters who work as hotel maids in tedious Fresno; the tale unfolds as the two find themselves having to dispose of a dead body. One blackmail incident, a robbery attempt and what seemed like a thousand dildos later, I was hooked. With a premise like this, how can hilarity not ensue?
One of the film’s strengths is the intricately constructed and odd universe it creates, with a web of characters so laugh-out-loud bizarre that they almost justify the actions taken by the leading ladies. The writing style is reminiscent of writer Karey Dornetto’s previous projects, namely Portlandia and South Park, with unconventional and off-beat jokes. It’s the actors, however, who bring her unapologetic and witty story to life, with an incredible supporting cast led by SNL alums Molly Shannon and Fred Armisen. As for the former, few can deliver crazy character as well as Shannon, with her unsettling laugh and facial expressions worthy of an Emmy. Armisen, on his part, does not disappoint, bringing his usual unique off-beat delivery to the role of the pet cemetery owner. A notable mention goes to Kumail Nanjiani whose (sadly brief) portrayal of the Oprah-enthusiast support group leader is enchantingly funny.
Lyonne as the optimistic Martha is charming, poignant and funny. She plays her character with a sunny disposition and quirkiness that makes you want to hug and slap her at the same time. Greer settles right into the role of the embittered sex addict, and registered sex offender, Shannon; she is so delightfully cynical and bitter, though this wore thin towards the end of the 85 minute running time.
The film’s magic lies in the pairing of the two, who counter each other well, creating a delightful good sister/bad sister dynamic that somehow keeps its charm throughout the film.
At the risk of getting hissed at by Parks and Recreation fans I will venture to add that Aubrey Plaza’s character (Martha’s love interest) failed to capture my attention; her portrayal is forgettable and clumsy. Though this is partly due to the character itself, which doesn’t allow Aubrey her usual steal-the-show moments, of which I am so fond.
This movie comes out in a period that I will, perhaps hyperbolically, call a ‘dark age’ of comedic films, with streams of predictable and repetitive films coming out one after the other, all of which seem to merge into one- Pitch Perfect 2 being the prime example. Addicted to Fresno does, in a sense, conform to this trend, as it fails to allow full characters developments, especially with Shannon, who seems to be stuck in a mean spirted, cynical glass case, never quite finding her way out. Moreover, the conclusion falls short of the rest of the film, as it divulges to the viewer a ‘lesson about the nature of sisterhood’, a lesson so sweet it will put sugar to shame. A lesson which I, as a viewer, did not expect to get from a film featuring a Bar Mitzvah boy rapping about the Holocaust. It also lacks the cult-classic qualities of Babbit’s previous film But I Am a Cheerleader (also staring Lyonne).
The film does, however, provide the viewer with two hours of solid laughter, enjoyment, and at least a few dozen quotable lines, ready to be used at age-appropriate social gatherings. This cavalcade of bad decisions will enthrall you, and is certainly worth the ticket price.