I had the pleasure of being able to watch the new movie Addicted to Fresno. The two main stars are Judy Greer (who last played in Ant-Man) and Natasha Lyonne (who has played in the American Pie movies as the main character Jim’s younger sister). Lyonne has also played in a movie named But I’m a Cheerleader where she is a teenager sent to a rehab camp to address her sexuality. Recently, Lyonne has been a star of the hit show Orange is the New Black. Addicted to Fresno has a whole string of comedians in Molly Shannon, Malcolm Barrett, and Ron Livingston.
So, what did I think of the movie? The movie opens up with Judy Greer’s character Shannon explaining the film's theme as: “Siblings have a way of bringing you down.” When I saw Judy’s character going into the opening of the prison while saying this, it was almost implied that her young sister was the problem child. But this was a fake out, which was very apparent after seeing her smile as she enters the prison. The movie showcases a lot of specific shots inside of a hotel with messy sheets, trash all over the place, and then pulls back to the location called Fresno Suites Hotel. But when it gets to the connection - the two sisters, Shannon played by Greer and Martha played by Lyonne, you find that both of these sisters are so different. Shannon is the kind of sister that you know is the troublemaker, the person to bring the mood down, the one who can be very obnoxiously rude, or who just really doesn’t get along with the life in general. Where as Martha is the happy-go-lucky, upbeat and weirdly cute sister that takes heart in the simpler things.
You do find that both have notions of weirdness right off the bat just in looking how they go through their day at work. Also, Shannon had an addiction and was in a rehab very recently, as well that Martha has a sexual preference for women. Its very apparent when listening to the dialogue of the main characters that a lot of their issues stem from their relationships with their parents, and then is spread out in the writing smoothly throughout most of the movie. Even to a breaking point that happens on a bed with sex toys everywhere, in an altercation between the sisters. But yet, I felt this could have been executed a bit better and simpler. Maybe in Shannon’s AA meetings, or in simple talks with other characters throughout to have those much needed emotional draws for the audience.
In the altercation sequence, you find that there are deeper notions of anger within the Martha that you really didn’t see at first, and in the same token, you find that character as a person resorts to her addiction as a means not to address her present issues or hard times through life. As a character, Shannon is not really a likable one at all. You don’t find out the depths of how messed up Greer’s character is until the second act. By then you may have already lost investment in the character from just the decisions and range of messes that she gets everyone around her in. When you find out her addiction is not drugs or alcohol - but sex, it’s more of a serious deal, yes, but it doesn’t connect because of how the situations are shot and filmed. It leaves you almost not even looking at a person that has a problem, but more so a character that needs to be removed from her pictures like she herself wants to leave Fresno.
It’s hard for me to feel as though I can recommend this movie based on the language throughout the film, sensually themed subject matter of Shannon’s addiction, and as well as the actual look of the film.
One thing I’ll say is: By the end of the movie, they touched on the themes and messages through the execution of how the characters learn. Looking at this movie from a cinematic perspective I feel that the movie felt like a B-roll film that was shot as a TV movie. Looking at the opening shots I felt like the budget was a bit low and that it could be just for Showtime or Cinemax, especially in connection with the sexual acts that occurred and the language of our characters. For example, there are four different instances where the Shannon has sexual interactions with male and females. Each scene doesn’t show full nudity and is only implied, but their language and the actual depiction of what is said leaves little for the imagination. This is not necessarily a movie that I would go see in the theater. From a visual standpoint, and in tone for the plot, I'd say it isn't worth the big bucks of a major theater admission. I feel this movie would have benefited as an ongoing TV series instead. I could see this as a 10-episode series, even given the circumstances that happen in the last act of the movie.
After you see where Shannon has been and what’s really wrong with her, it's easy to see this being a character that can grow on the small screen. As well as her sister Martha, who is not as upbeat and put together as you originally think. The other characters they interact with really break the filter they both are trying to maintain in the life they live. I did enjoy the other actors, though, like Aubrey Plaza who plays the trainer for Martha in the movie as Kelly. You find that her character has real feelings for Martha, but because of Martha’s inability to focus on her own life as opposed to worrying about her sister - or everybody else - she misses it. And it's very fun and refreshing chemistry between Aubrey and Natasha, making for one of the more likable relationships in the movie. Malcolm Barrett’s character, Eric, who plays one of Martha and Shannon’s co-workers at the hotel is also a decent watch. Eric and Shannon don't mesh well at first, but then you find out that they actually have great chemistry and are good for one another.
One of the funniest moments is when Eric catches Shannon taking a drink of alcohol, so he gets upset and knocks the glass out of her hand thinking she has relapsed. Leaving Shannon to explain: “I’m not addicted to that; I’m addicted to SEX!” Eric reels back with: “Wow! I didn’t think that was a real thing...” Naturally, funny moments like that are spread throughout the film with the other actors being Ron Livingston (from Office Space) and Molly Shannon (from Superstar), but you don’t really get any good emotional, but humorous, moments like that from the two sisters.
I know that theme is that they bring each other down, but at least make the interactions and reactions of the main characters not seem too campy or cliché. When that's the case, by the time we really see that Shannon is bringing her sister down and how she treats everyone, it makes things feel so unappealing and burdensome in the plot. It feels like the American version of 2007’s Death at a Funeral at some points, and that’s not a good thing. You only feel like there is more substance to the characters that should have had more time to flesh out, which is why I feel it would have done so much better as a TV series than a film. With that said, the main characters do learn a real-life lesson by the end of the film, and they do have interesting progression through the issues Shannon causes. But it's not enough to save the movie in my eyes in any way. What saves the film for me is the comedic moments from Greer and Lyonne.
In conclusion, I felt this movie was trying to make you see a real message about the dynamics of how family can help and hinder your progression through life. As a whole, Addicted to Fresno really fails to stand on its own with the main two characters in the first two acts. The visual scope of Addicted to Fresno is not a feat of cinematography, and would have done better with a different format on a smaller scale.
With that in mind, the main characters do learn something in the final act and it is not a cliché ending. Based on this, I give this movie a five out of ten rating