All her life, Shannon (Judy Greer) has had a problem with her sex addiction. It’s something that she can’t help, but somehow it fills a void within her. After being charged and classified as a sex offender for having sex on a school campus, she heads out to Fresno, CA to live with her sister Martha (Natsha Lyonne). Together, they work as maids in a motel, until tragedy strikes and they must act quickly.
Fresno is a mixed bag of a film, filled with two great performances from its leading ladies and some questionable storytelling that takes us further away from the focus of the film. Fresno being called the “Best Little City in the U.S.A.” has always made me chuckle and the fact that it’s one of the central jokes in this film made me curious about this project, along with the fact that you have Judy Greer playing against type alongside the talented Natasha Lyonne. The performances are truly the most alluring aspect of the film, with the writing and direction taking the back seat.
Judy Greer, to me, has always been this extraordinarily sweet woman with a hint of a dark side. Well, that dark side comes out in full force here, though it takes on a different form. Here, she gets to let loose and literally screw anything that moves. She’s crass, offensive, and downright dirty… but she absolutely nails the role. All puns aside, Greer really does excel as a character she’s never had the chance to play before. You can see her disinterest in most of the sex she has, but it’s something that she can’t control and the looks on her face are telling that she wish she wouldn’t be so promiscuous. Her lack of empathy outcasts her, but she does have glimmering moments of sobriety where she realizes the effect she’s having on the people who love her.
Natasha Lyonne has played a good number of Lesbians in her films and this film is no different, but we do get to see her playing up a different type of character. While also being preoccupied with taking care of her sister, Lyonne is also worrying about a case of unrequited love. She’s constantly being hit on by Plaza’s character, but can’t fathom why her girlfriend would be going after a man. Lyonne brings the most emotion into the film and really does a great job of pushing the dramatic elements of the story. She’s also a genuinely funny person and that’s obvious when you watch her have a great time on-screen.
With cameo’s from Fred Armisen, Aubrey Plaza, and Molly Shannon, the film does ramp up in its selective humor. Neither are in the film too long, but their presence is certainly welcoming. Everything about the cast and crew in this film should point to a movie that’s hilarious the majority of the time, but that’s not what the final product is. Instead, there are elongated jokes about dildos and a young Jewish boy who raps explicitly at his bat mitzvah. Screenwriter Karey Dornetto has written multiple episodes of Arrested Development, Community, The Kroll Show, and 2/3’s of Portlandia, so why didn’t her humor come out to play. Director Jamie Babbit has also excelled in T.V. Comedy, directing multiple episodes of The Gilmore Girls and dabbling recently in HBO’s Girls and Looking. The talent is there, it’s just not highlighted in this film, with is unfortunate given that this film could have been much funnier and far more dramatic. The script evokes some laughter, but ultimately leaves you wanting more.
Fresno is a very middle-of-the-road feature film that features two wonderful and different performances from two very great actresses. You’ll never look at Judy Greer the same way again, but that speaks to her dedication to the role and her ability to convince the audience that she’s as sick as she plays her character. Natsha Lyonne is always a joy to watch and she keeps on impressing me with this role of hers. Jamie Babbit and Karey Dornetto are two insanely talented women with outstanding resumes, but something just didn’t click this time around. If anything, I’m more curious to go check out the T.V. that they’ve written for. As for the film, I don’t believe I’ll be making another stop in Fresno any time soon.