Having absolutely no desire to watch yet another big screen adaptation of a Shakespeare classic, even if it does star some of my favourite actors and actresses of the time (Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard), the only choice that intrigued me enough to want to leave the house on a rainy Friday was the Karey Dornetto written and Jamie Babbit directed dark comedy Addicted To Fresno. I had been keeping tabs on the film since its early days when its title was simply Fresno, and though I had heard mixed reviews about the picture ever since its initial release at South By Southwest, I remained interested enough to want to form my own opinions of it rather than be guided by the crowd.
Addicted To Fresno tells the darkly comical tale of Martha and Shannon Jackson (Natasha Lyonne and Judy Greer), two sisters who live middling existences in the underwhelming city of Fresno, California. Recently returned from a stay in rehab for sex addiction, Shannon’s life is at rock bottom as she has no other choice but to join Martha in her job as a maid at a local hotel. The sisters’ lives become emphatically more complicated when Shannon accidentally kills one of the guests, and the bulk of the film operates in a dark caper fashion as the women attempt to dispose of the body and cover their crime. Though many of the film’s set pieces are funny and enjoyable to watch, something that I found I could not move on from as the narrative progressed was the fact that the main murder plot stemmed from a rather misjudged and badly handled extended rape joke. Rather than admit to her sister that she was in the room with the guest having consensual sex, Shannon proclaims that she was being raped which leads to the aggressive and eventually fatal confrontation between the trio. Something about the plot point did not sit well with me, and I was disappointed to see that this lie was left as such and never addressed again. Aside from this rather insensitive and problematic starting point, the rest of the picture is actually quite fun to watch. From robbing a sex shop for funds to considering a pet cemetery as means to bury their victim, Martha and Shannon take the audience on a whirlwind journey in order to rectify their situation, and as well as this main narrative thread there is an underlying theme of family tension between the two sisters that the audience learns stems from grudges held and blame (wrongly) placed for the death of their parents at separate points in the past. Each sister also has a romantic subplot to play out, with Shannon developing healthy, non sex addiction feelings for a sweet and caring hotel worker played by Malcolm Barrett and Martha striking up a sweet and wonderfully awkward romantic connection with her gym instructor played by Aubrey Plaza. Overall the balance of all of these subplots in conjunction with the main caper style narrative works quite well, and helps the audience to connect and empathise with sisters which is a vital element to achieve given the morally suspect details of their key narrative quest.
Addicted To Fresno is small scale in nature, therefore the quality and chemistry of the few lead characters is vital to the enjoyment of the film. In Natasha Lyonne and Judy Greer, the filmmakers have provided a pair that share enough similarities and differences to be believable and authentic sisters. As Martha, Lyonne gives the much more lovable and likeable performance of the two, presenting a character full of optimism and genuine affection for most of the people in her life, she gives the audience somebody to really connect with even when a lot of the plot skates on thin moral ice. Though she seems almost youthfully innocent, Lyonne ensures that the character remains believable even in the film’s darker moments when the sisters are required to get their hands dirty, and Martha’s spirit balances out the tone of the film really nicely. On the other hand, Judy Greer gives a rather unsympathetic performance as the flawed Shannon, coming across as intensely selfish for the first two thirds of the action. However, Greer is an innately likeable actress and this nature comes through in the final third when Shannon heads towards some kind of redemption that gives a degree of satisfaction and closure to the audience. Some fun supporting performances are given by the likes of Aubrey Plaza, Malcolm Barrett, Ron Livingston, Allison Tolman and Fred Armisen, but the real heart and responsibility of the film lies with Lyonne and Greer who do the best they can with a mostly enjoyable but occasionally suspect story and script.
Overall, Addicted To Fresno is a mostly funny but infrequently flawed dark comedy that, though misstepping in a few key areas, provides enough amusement and genuine humour to be a perfectly agreeable ninety minutes of indie film entertainment. The initial set up involving the somewhat objectionable act of ‘crying rape’ may leave a bad taste in the mouth as it did mine, but if you can overlook this poor narrative choice, the remainder of the picture makes for a fun and at points macabre caper that has as much to say about the bond of sisterhood as it does about the chaotic process of hiding a dead body. Perhaps one for the Netflix queue.