Film and television fans have had more reason than ever to lament Hollywood's underutilization of the great Judy Greer, what with a number of small and sometimes thankless roles in big-budget blockbusters like Jurassic World, Tomorrowland, Ant-Man, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Another set of film and television fans have had reasons to celebrate, in seeing the renaissance of character actor Natasha Lyonne's career through "Orange is the New Black". Anyone who fits in the part of the Venn diagram where those two types of people cross over may like to know, if they don't already, that an obscure 2015 indie comedy by Jamie Babbit (director of Lyonne's LGBTQ cult classic But I'm a Cheerleader) attempts to resolve the first and support the second, by casting Greer and Lyonne as sisters working in a hotel who get wrapped up in trying to get rid of a body they're responsible for.
Greer plays Shannon, the bad sister, who had a swank teaching gig but got fired when she slept with most, if not all of the staff members, including the principal, and got caught. That last tryst, caught by the students, resulted in her being legally branded a sex offender, so she has no choice but to return to her personal nightmare: Fresno. Lyonne is Martha, the good sister, who takes her job at a local hotel seriously, has just split up with a longtime girlfriend, and is working up the courage to hit on her sexy aerobics instructor Kelly (Aubrey Plaza), whose advances are far more aggressive than Martha's. Martha has gotten Shannon a gig at the same hotel and is trying to get her to take to responsibility and adulthood in the same way she has, but Shannon continues to resist, including her decision to sleep with one of the hotel's skeezy tenants, Boris Lipka (Jon Daly). When Martha catches them together, Shannon panics, claiming Boris is raping her, and the ensuing chaos leaves Boris dead and the two women with a body to dispose of.
In terms of the script (the first feature by TV veteran Karey Dornetto), Fresno isn't bad, but it isn't anything special either, an adequate but not inspired go at the dark, escalating comedy of errors, where the characters keep making mistakes that stack on top of each other as they try to work their way out of their predicament. The characters roll the body around in a hotel laundry cart and the antics pile up: they rob a sex shop, they get extorted at a pet cemetery, they hit up a lesbian softball banquet, and crash a Bar Mitzvah. They are surrounded by the sorts of stock characters that exist in these sorts of movies: the married (soon to be divorced) man (Ron Livingston) that Shannon is seeing instead of going to sex addiction meetings, the uptight front desk woman Shannon knew in high school (Jessica St. Clair), the actually-cool employee who seems to spend his shifts smoking behind the building (Malcolm Barrett), Shannon and Martha's cheery boss (Farrelly staple Edward Barbanell), and Boris' frustrated sister Margaret (Molly Shannon).
However, if part of the mission statement of Fresno was to give Judy Greer the leading role she deserves, then the movie is undeniably a success. Shannon is a character that gives Greer the opportunity to cut loose, creating a profane, misguided, narcissistic chaos addict that walks the line between endearing and unlikable. She plays the role with comic snap and biting enthusiasm that her most memorable characters (such as her most famous role, as Kitty Sanchez on "Arrested Development) offer in smaller doses. She has excellent comic and sisterly chemistry with Lyonne, who conveys the tiny ways that Martha is visibly working to keep her positive attitude up in the face of Shannon's pessimism and outright dishonesty, as well as some fun lump-in-throat, huge crush awkwardness between her and Plaza. Although the movie is primarily a comedy, it also provides some nice opportunities for both actors to play some dramatic notes, and both are conscious of the film's occasionally exaggerated tone, acting as a more grounded counterweight to some of the movie's broader elements.
Among the supporting cast, Plaza and Barrett are both fun and charming in their roles, and it's always a pleasure to see Barbanell pop up in films. (Jessica St. Clair is good as well, although perhaps the next crusade for comic character actors will be finding her an on-screen role as good as her "Comedy Bang! Bang! character Marissa Wompler.) There are also some fun cameos, namely by Fred Armisen and "Fargo" star Allison Tolman as the pet cemetery managers desperate to leave Fresno behind. Directorially, the movie feels a little limited by the budget, with numerous sequences shot in generic-looking hotel rooms and other buildings that feel a little bland. Then again, maybe that's part of the movie's running commentary on Fresno itself (as a non-resident, I can't say how accurate the movie's anti-Fresno bias is). In the end, the movie's greatest asset remains its two stars, who invest the project with enough electricity to elevate it into a minor gem.
Addicted to Fresno arrives on video with its poster art intact, a black-and-white image of Greer, Lyonne, and an awkwardly added Plaza with red highlights for the bin holding the body, and a dildo in Lyonne's hand (a little surprised they let that stand for a DVD I've seen on the shelves in a Target). The one-disc release comes in a standard Amaray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1, Fresno is the kind of movie that would look a little tactile on Blu-ray and looks a touch mediocre on DVD. Colors are the strong point for the visuals, with nicely saturated skintones and the purple of the women's hotel uniforms, although some black crush sneaks in during dark scenes. Detail is thoroughly okay, with that look that is so clearly modern HD digital that there may just be a psychological awareness that the video isn't completely sharp, like a streaming video that hasn't clicked up to that last tier of resolution. Sound is adequate but more hampered by limitations on the original mixing than any issues with the disc -- an early scene where Lyonne mentions she comes to a club for "the music" contains almost no music in the background, for instance. The film is mostly centered around dialogue, so the 5.1 reflects that, with a strong emphasis on it. A DD 2.0 track is also included, as are English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.
There is one bonus feature: a series of six deleted scenes, viewable individually or as a "Play All." An original theatrical trailer is also included.
Addicted to Fresno has a shaggy-dog quality to it that reveals some of its seams and weaknesses, but all of them seem irrelevant in the face of the opportunity to watch the criminally underappreciated Greer shine with Lyonne by her side. Recommended.
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