“Addicted to Fresno”
Looking at Dependence
Shannon (Judy Greer) is a self-destructive sex addict kicked out of rehab and back into the care of her long-suffering, lovelorn sister Martha (Natasha Lyonne). Joining her sibling in her work as a motel maid in a dead-end town, Shannon soon upsets the quiet through the “accidental” murder of a guest.
The chaos caused by Shannon’s affliction and its inherent selfishness has been underlined sufficiently well before the point at which she accuses an innocent (though sleazy) man, Boris (Jon Daly), of rape and then kills him for no better reason than to hide an from her sister that she is experiencing a relapse. The movie sets out to explore the complex issues surrounding addiction and recovery. As such, the central plot point is a heavy-handed step too far that omits any sign of sympathy that we might have had for Shannon.
The script includes poor decisions yet there is a degree of personal redemption among the members of the cast. There’s a believable sisterly chemistry between Greer and Lyonne, who prove themselves worthy of promotion of bigger roles.
The comedy tries to be a pertinent statement on matters of dependence. The sisters work to cure themselves and mend their tenuous relationship, with Martha giving Shannon a place to stay and getting her a job as a maid at the same nondescript hotel where she works.
For a while, director Jamie Babbit gives us a character study but then suddenly, it all changes when Shannon sleeps with a hotel guest and inadvertently kills him. And in the name of the sister code, Martha agrees to help cover up the crime, with a blackmail attempt then prompting poorly reasoned schemes to gain money.
The corpse, which becomes cumbersome only when the plot requires it, is intended as the way to the sisters’ salvation. Yet with each passing minute, the film’s larger points fall by the wayside in the name of black comedy that loses its edge. The narrative just stops as Shannon confesses to the crime and is hauled to jail. This staunch rejection of real resolution might have been the film’s biggest joke if it hadn’t been rendered with such earnestness.
When Martha walks in on Shannon and Boris, her sister claims that she was being sexually assaulted and accidentally kills Boris in the confusion. They then have to get rid of the dead body. They try to distract Boris’s suffering sister (Molly Shannon) while they raise a small fortune to have pet cemetery caretakers (Fred Armisen and Allison Tolman) cremate the corpse. What could have been funny comes off as silly and I really wanted to like this movie.
The middle of the movie is when Shannon and Martha’s attempt to earn money quickly to pay for the cremation, with one scheme finding the ladies stealing a tub of sex toys to resell to female softball players at an awards ceremony back at the hotel. Another has Shannon and Martha crashing a boy’s bar mitzvah to swipe a box filled with cash. As we reach the final third of the film, things get better and we realize that Shannon’s sexual addiction is very real and that she is a broken woman even with her cynicism and carelessness.
Redeeming Shannon is a steady undertone of female solidarity that rises to the surface in scenes like the one where Shannon insists on releasing her sister’s hair from its scrunchie and brushing it out and in scenes like this, we see that sister can raise one another up.