Release: Friday, October 2, 2015 (limited)
Written by: Karey Dornetto
Directed by: Jamie Babbit
This review is my second contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. I’d like to thank James for giving me the chance to take a peek at this one!
In her fifth feature film Jamie Babbit fixates upon life in a Californian town where nothing seems to happen — nothing good, anyway. Attracting an impressive cast of almost exclusively comediennes — Natasha Lyonne, Judy Greer, Molly Shannon and Aubrey Plaza — the film regrettably misuses the talent it has been afforded by stranding them in a dispassionate and thoroughly unconvincing narrative that will have viewers actively searching for the comedy.
Addicted to Fresno concerns two sisters working as hotel maids in Fresno. Lyonne is Martha, a hard-working, upbeat woman who is determined to make something of her life in these doldrums, while her older sister Shannon (Greer) has recently been released from sex rehab and is trying to put her life back together by working a steady job. Unfortunately Shannon can’t fight temptation and ends up sleeping with a hotel guest who she accidentally kills in an ensuing struggle. Desperate to keep her job, she enlists Martha’s help to get rid of the evidence, insisting she was raped and that it was not, in fact, consensual sex.
When the pair try to pass off the corpse they have concealed in a hotel hamper as a dog they want buried, they invoke the irritation of two local pet cemetery owners who insist they be paid $25,000 to keep quiet. Oh, and the money must be delivered in three days. Martha, once again bailing her sister out of a tough situation, reluctantly turns to robbery. It’s a harebrained scheme that will involve a porn shop, where they make off with a hamper filled with sex toys they will later sell to a lesbian softball team that just so happens to stay at the hotel. Convenient. (Not so convenient is their realization that porn shops don’t carry much cash in the register.)
The plan goes from bad to terrible when they find themselves still short of their total and decide that an upcoming event — a Bar Mitzvah — hosted at the Fresno Suites will help them considerably. Meanwhile, Martha strikes up a friendship with Kelly (Plaza), a Krav Maga instructor who gets denied a few first dates as Martha attempts to keep the other situation from spiraling out of control. Kelly may be cool, but she isn’t cool with being perpetually put off for the sake of Martha’s unapologetically reckless sister.
Greer channels more than a hint of her deranged Archer personality, Cheryl Tunt (or, is that Carol?) but the key difference here is that . . . well, other than being a live-action character, Shannon just isn’t funny. If she’s not all sour grapes over the fact that Edwin (Ron Livingston), is reluctant to keep having an affair with her and would rather end his current marriage and be with her than have it both ways, she is sabotaging her sister’s personal and professional life. Martha may be the more empathetic character, yet her older sister is both the center of attention and whom Babbit intends for us to eventually embrace. Come the film’s conclusion we can’t bring ourselves to do anything of the sort. Instead we wonder how and why Martha has put up with this for so long.
Plaza fares better in an understated role as the fitness instructor who takes an immediate liking to Martha. Rather than reigning queen of the deadpan here she plays it straight (so to speak), although increasing her screen presence would have helped offset the unpleasantness pervasive throughout. Molly Shannon is frustratingly superfluous, adding a couple of lines to contextualize the life of the victim of Shannon’s sexual aggression earlier in the film but absent is her spunky personality. I do need to single out Edward Barbanell who, playing Fresno Suites Executive Maid Jerry, manages to convert his real-life Down Syndrome into comic relief that works fairly well.
Unfortunately Fresno‘s reliance upon raunchiness, save for a scene in which a member of the hotel staff happens to find herself in the right place at the right time when dildos begin raining down the laundry chute, doesn’t translate into many laughs. The cast is clearly having a field day with the material — it would be hard not to with this many funny women on the same set — but sadly we feel out of the loop watching on, trying to justify how a hotel staff could possibly overlook this kind of a farce, one that is happening right in front of their eyes. I suppose I’m focusing on the wrong things, but then that wouldn’t likely have happened if there was something else to entertain my overactive imagination.
Addicted to Fresno is a relationship comedy with few addictive properties. Under almost any other circumstance, that would be a plus but when it comes to entertainment, we should be left at the end eager to come back for more.
Recommendation: As a comedy, this doesn’t offer much in the way of originality. Featuring a central character that’s too easy to loathe, the film misjudges raunch and vulgarity and misses some opportunities to explore both romantic and familial relationships on a much deeper level.
Running Time: 78 mins.
Quoted: “It’s hard letting go, isn’t it? If only Pop-Tart could have spoken up and told me what was bothering her. But turtles can’t let you know what’s going on, can they? Robots can’t, either . . .”
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