Raunchy Humor, Human Relationships, and Judy Greer Make ‘Addicted to Fresno’ a Comedic Gem

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I believe it is safe to say that we all know somebody who is an irredeemable fuck-up. If you don’t know anyone like that, odds are it is you. Whatever side of the fuck-upery you’re on, it’s a frustrating experience – either you sit aside and watch someone destroy themselves and those around them, or the extensive damage is being done to yourself. These situations may have dark comedic undertones, but it’s still quite difficult to make these moments into a comedic film. To pull off such a feat, a deft touch is required. Luckily, director Jamie Babbit has that unique touch and brings it to her latest film, Addicted to Fresno, much in the same way she brought a demented sense of humor to tricky subject matter in her cult classic film But I’m a Cheerleader.

Nothing is going right for Shannon (Judy Greer). She’s lost her job as a teacher for having an illicit affair that has resulted in her being a registered sex offender. After a stint in rehab for her sexual addiction, she’s moved in with her sister Martha (Natasha Lyonne) in their hometown of Fresno, a city in the Central Valley of California that has little to offer for those who have been outside the city limits. Martha has secured Shannon a job alongside her as a hotel maid. Unbeknownst to her sister, Shannon never completed her stay in rehab, being kicked out for sleeping with her therapist (Ron Livingston). Meanwhile, Martha, a lesbian, is having relationship troubles of her own, and neglects the come-ons from her personal trainer (Aubrey Plaza). One day at the hotel, Shannon impulsively engages in intercourse with a white trash guest at the hotel (Jon Daly). Not exactly subtle, Shannon and her gentlemen caller are discovered by Martha. Panicked, Shannon exclaims her code word for rape and in the ensuing fracas the guest falls and dies. Fearing possible jail time, the two sisters then attempt to dispose of the body and cover their tracks. You can guess how well that goes.

Now, I do wish that Jamie Babbit employed more of the symmetrical shots that comprise the opening credits, but that’s about the extent of my minor gripes concerning Addicted to Fresno. The script by Karey Dornetto – a veteran of Community, Arrested Development, South Park, and Portlandia – always finds a remarkable balance to the raunchy escalating farce and the human relationships that are undermined by the selfish aspects of addiction. The lessons that the characters learn aren’t forced, but a natural progression of character rooted in everything that we’ve seen leading up to it. There’s not a happy ending here. Instead, it may be the most cold and realistic conclusion for a character in the throes of solipsistic addiction.

While the script maintains a sharp balance in its raunchy and human elements, it’s the leading ladies of Addicted to Fresno that keep it a brisk entertaining comedy. Recently relegated to the concerned mother role in a number of blockbusters, it’s nice seeing Judy Greer employ her ample comedic chops and playing so strongly against type. Conversely, it’s nice seeing Natasha Lyonne play the more grounded character trying to keep her unwieldy sister at bay. The two play off of each other wonderfully, and their sisterly relationship is nothing short of naturalistic. Their performances are given ample aid by a robust supporting cast, including Molly Shannon, Fred Armisen, Allison Tolman, Jessica St. Clair, Malcom Barrett, Clea DuVall, and Michael Hitchcock.

Addicted to Fresno isn’t a perfect comedy by any means, but it has a heart to counteract its more risqué edges. Attempting to tackle such difficult material in the realm of comedy runs the risk of coming across as tone deaf or mean-spirited, something Babbit and Dornetto never bring to the movie. If you’re one who has serious aversion to purple dildos, however, I would not recommend that you add Addicted to Fresno to your viewing list. But if you like comedies that push the envelope without being overwhelmed by spite, that understand human relationships, and finally gives Judy Greer all the screen time she commands – you don’t want to miss Addicted to Fresno.

Addicted to Fresno is currently available on VOD and open in select theaters on October 2nd, 2015.

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