With top TV talent and the director of cult favorite “But I’m a Cheerleader” at the helm, “Addicted to Fresno” should be good, or at the very least, enjoyably off kilter. Sadly, save for a few inspired moments (usually at the expense of the city of Fresno), Jamie Babbit’s screwball comedy is cringe-inducing and unfunny. Everyone in front of the camera here deserves better, particular Judy Greer in a rare starring role.
I’d argue that Greer should get more work, but the talented actress has been in a half dozen films this year, as well as on TV with “Married” and “Archer.” But it’s less the quantity of roles she nabs (seriously, Judy, take a vacation), and more her part in them that’s the concern. Greer’s brief appearances in blockbuster films like “Ant-man” and “Jurassic World” could’ve been anyone; more leads like “Addicted to Fresno” and “Married” are what she deserves, at least in terms of screen time. I see what attracted her to the role of Shannon here, even beyond the above-the-line billing. Shannon is a complicated character whose existence isn’t being someone’s wife or mother, which is more of a rarity than it should be. That said, while Shannon is on screen for most of the film, she — and “Addicted to Fresno” — are unworthy of Greer’s talents.
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The same could be said for her co-stars. Natasha Lyonne switches from her troubled “Orange Is the New Black” character to play Shannon’s good girl but co-dependent sister, Martha. Ron Livingston makes an appearance as Shannon’s married lover, while Malcolm Barrett (“Dear White People”) plays a co-worker, co-conspirator, and crush. “Addicted to Fresno” also features Aubrey Plaza as Martha’s love interest at her gym, as well as Jessica St. Clair, Fred Armisen, Allison Tolman, Beth Grant, Molly Shannon, and Kumail Nanjiani in small roles. The cast feels like the roster for an amazing night of improv or the best party you’d never get invited to, but they’re woefully underserved by the material here.
The script from Karey Dornetto doesn’t reflect the strengths of her past efforts as a writer. “Addicted to Fresno” has all the raunch of “South Park,” but none of its satiric bite. It has the oddball family drama of “Arrested Development,” but without the quotable dialogue. Setting is key as in “Portlandia,” but it lacks any actual humor. It has the weirdo characters of “Kroll Show,” but none of them are worth watching.
The film begins with Shannon leaving rehab for sex addiction, and Martha getting her a job working alongside her as she cleans hotel rooms. Uninspired by the work, Shannon soon falls off the wagon and into the room of one of the hotel’s less savory patrons. She accidentally kills him, and so Martha and Shannon spend the rest of the movie covering up the crime, which leads them to a pet cemetery, sex shop, a softball convention, and a bar mitzvah. Whatever else can be said about “Addicted to Fresno,” at least it goes in unexpected directions.
Babbit’s film’s worst crime isn’t its misanthropic humor that makes light of false rape accusations and people with Down’s syndrome, it’s that it cracks those jokes without being funny. Make insensitive comments all you’d like, but at least get a laugh if you do. With the exception of Barrett and Plaza’s characters, almost everyone here is an awful human being and made all the more so by not being interesting. Even Lyonne’s Martha has selfish motives for taking care of her sister at times and she wallows in a previous breakup while ignoring Plaza’s gym instructor.
“Addicted to Fresno” can at least be praised for centering itself on the relationship between the sisters, rather than making their respective romantic relationships the heart of the film. Some of the few moments that work are the scenes of genuine, warped affection between the pair that are immediately recognizable to those with siblings. But the film works to squander any of this goodwill by making the sisters — and practically everyone else — unlikable in a way that isn’t remotely compelling. Comedically terrible people can be great viewing, but it seems to succeed more frequently on television than in film. “The League,” “Girls,” “You’re the Worst,” “Difficult People,” “BoJack Horseman,” and pretty much all FX comedies have all found ways to be delightfully nasty over episodes and seasons, while keeping audiences engaged for 22-ish minutes at a time. Somehow, “Addicted to Fresno” makes it much harder with 85 minutes of pure annoyance. [D+]