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.
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