Addicted to Fresno
Addicted to Fresno (2015)
★ / ★★★★
One way to pull off dark comedy to establish a specific, pointed tone but “Addicted to Fresno” is neither specific nor pointed about, well, anything. In fact, the picture, written by Karey Dornetto and directed by Jamie Babbit, likens that of a mediocre sitcom that thinks it is being edgy by introducing an unlikable character, but it is actually doomed for cancellation after about four episodes because no one cares and no one is watching.
The film relies solely on the performances of its leads. Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne play sisters, Shannon and Martha, respectively, who work as maids in a motel in Fresno, California. Although Shannon is a recovering sex addict and a registered sex offender, Martha has a great reputation at work and so she is able to pull some strings for her sister. A few days on the job, however, Shannon ends up killing a man (Jon Daly) in one of the rooms immediately after falsely accusing him of rape in the attempt to hide from Martha that she is not at all taking recovery seriously. They decide to get rid of the body.
Greer and Lyonne share watchable chemistry and they do share some scenes with extemporaneous exchanges that are far more alive than what is written on the script. They seem to have effortless sense in terms of each other’s timing and so they are able to build off one another’s ability to take risks. It is depressing then that Shannon and Martha’s severely undercooked subplots, both involving potential romances, do not lead anywhere interesting.
The stronger strand is Martha’s inability or unwillingness, sometimes a mix of both, to recognize that one of her instructors at the gym, played by Aubrey Plaza, is so into her. There is more intrigue there than Shannon having an affair with her former therapist (Ron Livingston) and current co-worker (Malcolm Barrett) because Martha’s interactions with Kelly reveal something new about the character at times. On the other hand, Shannon is almost always unpleasant—which is a mistake in a protagonist in a dark comedy. It would have been far more interesting if Shannon were written as unpredictable as opposed to tactless.
Unpredictability might have paved the way for Shannon to show heart, strength, bitterness, weakness, flaw, and many of the elements that make up a character with whom we can relate with despite first impressions that we do not have anything in common with her. Greer is a performer with range and enthusiasm so it is curious that the screenwriter had not chosen to take advantage of making the character colorful—even just within the darker hues of blues and gray. Instead, role could have been played by anybody.
Aside from two of three snappy dialogue, “Addicted to Fresno” offers nothing special and that is death to the comedy genre. Dark comedy is especially difficult to pull off because it is, in its core, a character study. Here, the writing barely scratches the surface. Because not one aspect of the screenplay is on top form before shooting, the writer fails to give the project a chance to take off.