Addicted to Fresno Arrested Development

Addicted to Fresno Review: Feel-Good Comedy about Sex Addiction and Covering up Manslaughter!

Friday, September 11, 2015 Rob Samuelson

Addicted to Fresno

Director: Jamie Babbit
Writer: Karey Dornetto
Starring: Judy Greer, Natasha Lyonne, Malcolm Barrett, Aubrey Plaza, Jon Daly, Jessica St. Clair
Rating: Four stars out of five.
Available on demand now, in limited release October 2.

Having selfish people in your inner circle can be a drag. There are certainly reasons for that self-centeredness, but that doesn't make it easy to deal with them. But, since it's always funny when bad things happen to people who are not you, selfish people make for great comedic entertainment.

Such is the case in Jamie Babbit's new film, Addicted to Fresno. Judy Greer (Arrested Development, Jurassic World) is Shannon, a messed up person. She is a sex addict who is not much for the “recovering” part of recovery. She lost her job and got tagged as an official sex offender for doing some not-safe-for-work things in the vicinity of children. She is ruining her therapist's marriage. And she doesn't care. It's better than doing nothing, she says. Greer is able to make someone who seems constitutionally unable to do the right thing into a relatable figure. Most people don't want to be responsible, and the laziness is so tempting at every turn. Unless they have that slight genetic variation that diminishes shame, as Shannon does, they won't allow themselves to succumb to the selfishness. Shannon provides an escape for the viewer, a chance to laugh at their own lazy urges and remember why they don't (or shouldn't) give into them.

But Shannon does give in at every available opportunity. It presents a huge predicament for her sister, Martha, at whose dour, beige house Shannon must stay after her sex offense. As played by Natasha Lyonne of Orange is the New Black, Martha is a frazzled do-gooder looking for the best outcome for everyone. The problem is, she is unable to make those best outcomes happen for either them or herself. But she's present and eager to help, a reversal from Lyonne's previous starring roles where she was detached and too cool for school to mask pain. In Addicted to Fresno, she is wide-eyed and overwhelmed, the type of person who will move heaven and earth to help people when she should be worried about other things.

As in, anything not related to trying to cover up a case of manslaughter, which is what Shannon drags her into as the movie's plot backbone. Martha gets Shannon a job at the hotel she works at and, with Shannon being clinically selfish as she is, she goes off with a sleazy guy played by comedian Jon Daly. Mishaps occur, he falls over and hits his head, and that is that. Hijinks time.

For the thematic heft Addicted to Fresno has, those things would be overwhelming and dour on their own. The things that makes it a good movie are those hijinks. They're acerbic to the bone, with heists haphazardly planned at adult book stores and a bar mitzvah in order to pay for a cremation of the body. Shannon lies with the skill of a con artist, but Martha struggles to pretend with anything. They bounce off each other in zany ways, a miserable, modern version of Lucy and Ethel. Except instead of stuffing chocolate into their pockets, they are woefully falling short in their attempt to make $25,000 by selling stolen sex toys at a lesbian softball convention.

There's an almost uplifting quality to the narrative. These people make us laugh, and they reveal the reasons for their behavior in dribs and drabs along the way, so we want them to succeed on one hand. On the other, there is still a crime that was committed, no matter how goofy and accidental. It puts the viewer in a silly bit of discomfort and it chooses a refreshing route toward resolution. Characters don't necessarily change for the better so much as give up and take what's coming. It's half about accepting responsibility and half about not having anywhere else to be.

If there is anything to ding the movie on, it's a slightly ho-hum production design. Everything is taupe and dreary, a fluorescent haze of mediocrity. It may be intentional, and the movie often calls it out as being indicative of the setting – Fresno is apparently a grim place to exist.

The rest of the direction is not lacking, because there are well-thought-out shots and layered visual gags. Some shot compositions highlight the loneliness felt by Martha by placing her in the center of the frame. They are subtle and infrequent, but director Babbit is always thinking about how to add to the visual storytelling, even on what is obviously a shoestring budget.

It's primary strength is in the interplay of the writing, characters, and acting, though. There is no “prize” to be won at the end of the tunnel, and Addicted to Fresno hardly expects one to be there. There is a theoretical love interest for Shannon, but she hilariously disregards him to attend to her own things. It's a nice refutation of movie logic, where we want characters to get together because they're charming and have chemistry, but nope! Martha is the one who gains the most by the film's ending, and even that is by lessening the burden of responsibilities in her life. It's a snarky little way to finish things and it makes Addicted to Fresno a movie that sticks to its guns to its great credit.

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