VOD Releases: Addicted to Fresno (2015) - Reviewed

LGBT filmmaker and prolific television director Jamie Babbit struck a home run with her 1999 lesbian coming-of-age comedy But I’m a Cheerleader with frequent collaborator Natasha Lyonne (American Pie) at her beckon call.  After dabbling in the thriller genre with The Quiet, Babbit mostly immersed herself in television ranging from everything to Nip/Tuck, The L Word, Girls and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  Generally comfortable working in the television format pushing candy colored romcom imagery tinged with just enough provocation to align herself with the likes of Todd Solondz, Babbit seems to have hit her stride in the film industry but not without a few bumps in the road such as the woefully miscalculated, desperately unfunny and often unintentionally downright offensive indie dark comedy Addicted to Fresno

Reuniting Babbit with Lyonne, the film concerns two sisters, Shannon (Judy Greer) and Martha (Lyonne) working as hotel maids.  Fresh out of rehab, registered sex offender and addict Shannon takes up the unwanted hotel maid task before accidentally slaying a hotel guest mid-coitus amid another one of her numerous trysts with random bystanders and the disgruntled dysfunctional duo are thrust into a “comedy” of errors trying to cover their tracks ala Very Bad Things and the forthcoming Rough Night

Aiding the film’s overqualified cast are Ron Livingston, Molly Shannon, Edward Barbanell, Fred Armisen and Aubrey Plaza, who do what they can with the material which, like the equally off base Pretty Persuasion can’t decide if it is a dark comedy or a drama and ultimately wastes if not humiliates the actors.  It doesn’t help that our central ‘heroine’ Shannon is a thoroughly reprehensible character, tossing out rape jokes right and left, using and abusing people and finally murdering someone.  It would be one thing if it went the direction Very Bad Things did where the dire deed comes back to truly haunt every single character, but Addicted to Fresno doesn’t take the implications of it’s actions seriously. 

Save for some solid moments between Lyonne and Plaza, touching on the director’s kindred themes of female homosexuality, not since Movie 43 has subversive dark comedy been so embarrassing to watch.  A shame because somewhere in Addicted to Fresno are scattered moments of inspiration recalling the far better But I’m a Cheerleader.  What we have here for the most part consists of awful people doing awful things which can work for something like The Rules of Attraction but here repeatedly lands with a thud each time an off color, politically incorrect joke is thrown into the mire. 

We don’t necessarily have to like these characters for the film to work, but tonally Addicted to Fresno is all over the place, wanting to be a cute coming of age rom-com while having a decomposing cadaver as the lynchpin holding this otherwise cheap and often tawdry sketch comedy together.  What was meant to be Babbit’s return to the big screen tragically proved to be her last, creating a colossal misfire instead of a surefire comic hit.  Thankfully Lyonne and Babbit seem to have moved on past this tiresome, offensive dud and returned to directing television.  Hopefully after writing this review, I will have too.


- Andrew Kotwicki