There’s something to be said about movies in which women are unapologetic, where they are funny and mean, and fall apart. In Addicted to Fresno, Judy Greer steps away from her usual supporting role and stars as Shannon, a sex addict who has definitely crumbled. Shannon is the needy sister of Martha (Natasha Lyonne), a lesbian and maid in Fresno who gets roped into helping Shannon after she accidentally kills a man. Rehabilitation hasn’t helped Shannon’s sex addiction since she’s been sleeping with her counsellor (Ron Livingston); we watch as she continually gets herself into drama which her sister has to pull her out of. Addicted to Fresno is directed by out lesbian director and major figure in New Queer Cinema Jamie Babbit, and is produced by her former partner Andrea Sperling, whose previous work includes D.E.B.S and Sundance hit Like Crazy. Babbit’s 1999 film But I’m a Cheerleader – also starring Lyonne – is a cult lesbian film, beloved by queers and taught in Gender Studies classrooms everywhere. Babbit, having also directed several episodes of The L Word and Girls has some major queer pull, making this film a major drawcard at this year’s Mardi Gras Film Festival.
Lyonne is back, playing a relatively innocent and kind spirited lez like she did in Cheerleader, taking a break from her role as world hardened heroin addict Nikki Nichols on Orange is the New Black. Lyonne is sweet but sheltered, caught up on an old lover, when Aubrey Plaza – a highlight of the film – begins making serious advances. It’s great to see Judy Greer playing the train wreck for once; perhaps more than any other actress in Hollywood, Greer is usually relegated to a supporting role as a best friend or mild antagonist or, more recently, as a mother in both Jurassic World and Ant-Man. Greer does well in one of her few starring roles as Shannon’s sex addict without a heart of gold.
However, despite this fine performance from Greer, her character doesn’t quite land. You don’t have to like a protagonist for a film to work, but there is something monotonous and jarring about having very little to hold on to. In Addicted to Fresno, it feels like the film’s action relies on the audience rooting for Greer’s character, but Babbit’s characterisation doesn’t offer much to root for. The character does present some interesting moments – including one in which a man is leaving his wife for her, with Shannon rejecting his advances, yelling at him to “go back”, allowing a woman to be in control – but overall, you don’t really ever care that Shannon is out of control.
Lyonne’s character, however, does provide an emotional anchor for the film, albeit a slightly frustrating one; her outfits in particular are something to behold. In fact, Addicted to Fresno looks great overall. Babbit is a master of colour, as previously demonstrated in But I’m A Cheerleader, and the clothes in Addicted to Fresno in particular stand out, with everything draped in a bright, tacky, Fresno sheen. There are some other definite highlights: robbing a sex shop (with an excellent cameo by Lyonne’s But I’m a Cheerleader co-star Clea DuVall) and selling dildos for a profit at a lesbian softball awards night. Moments like these are breadcrumbs for a queer audience who come to this movie with ideas in mind of what they’d like to see. They are moments to be picked up on.
There is a harshness to this movie that is reminiscent of other Babbit films, like But I’m A Cheerleader or her 2007 feature Itty Bitty Titty Committee. Whether it’s making fun of a man with Down syndrome or the several rape jokes that the film tries to carry, it doesn’t quite work. It would seem that Babbit is trying to make us uncomfortable, which Addicted to Fresno succeeds at, but Babbit leaves us feeling confused and kind of bummed out about the whole thing more than anything else. I’m all for women making bold comedy, for women being filthy and fowl and even politically incorrect, but it just doesn’t quite land here. The film also sports a great supporting cast featuring Fred Armisen and Molly Shannon, but both are woefully underused for how much talent and capital they bring to the table.
Ultimately, Addicted to Fresno has some good elements and some relative promise, but it doesn’t quite achieve any of its goals. It is an interesting example of queer cinema, however: queer on many levels but doesn’t dwell heavily on romantic relationships, which is admittedly refreshing. Overall, however, Addicted to Fresno leaves us confused as to where to hold our attention, queer or otherwise.