The first time director Jamie Babbit and actress Natasha Lyonne worked together was on Babbit's debut picture, But I'm a Cheerleader, a wry comedy about a lesbian sent to an LGBT rehabilitation camp. I remember renting the movie in the early 2000s based on the fact that its two main stars were a couple of my screen crushes — the beautiful Clea DuVall, who I had just seen kick ass in John Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, and the cute Natasha Lyonne, who sang the awkward teenage blues in Tamara Jenkins' Slums of Beverly Hills. Between moments of goofiness and vulgarity, But I'm a Cheerleader Lyonne's high school cheerleader falls for another camper (Duvall). However, the film's heart was encapsulated in a tender sex scene between the two leads. That scene in particular stuck with me because it was the first time I saw a girl-on-girl sex scene that wasn't shot with drooling Skinemax watchers in mind.
Years later, Babbit and Lyonne have re-teamed for the bleak comedy Addicted to Fresno, and much like their first effort together, the pair treat us to some goofiness, some sweetness, and a boatload of vulgarity while revisiting the themes of love and unwanted rehab. But, unlike Cheerleader, this film has a slightly darker heart at its core.
As the movie begins, Shannon Jackson (Judy Greer) has just gotten out of rehab for sex addiction. Her sister Martha (Lyonne), a hotel maid in Fresno, has gotten her a job and a place to crash until she gets back on her feet. From the outset, it's apparent that Martha is more serious about Shannon's recovery than she is. When Shannon isn't complaining about the hotel smelling like piss, reminding a co-worker that her husband's semen tasted like pineapple, or mocking Martha's attempts at bettering her sister's life, the sex addict is busy being the buzzkill in her group therapy sessions or having extra-marital whoopee with her former rehab therapist (Ron Livingston) to quell her urges. Meanwhile, the lonely Martha pines for a former fling, goes to exercise classes, and tries to be a good person to fill the void in her life.
One day at work, Shannon gets some unwanted news and in turn falls into the arms of a scuzzy, hirsute guest (Jon Daly). Before you know it, Shannon is knee-deep in sloppy sex with the gross hair ball. Unfortunately, Martha interrupts them in mid-hump, things go off the rails, and the guest is lying dead on the bathroom floor. Shannon then convinces Martha to help her get rid of the body, but they are quickly thwarted by two pet cemetery owners (Fred Armisen and Alison Tolman) with intentions of blackmailing them. From there on out, it's a life of crime for the not-so-dynamic duo of Shannon and Martha. Naturally, hilarity ensues while the corpse of the hairy guest lays in a laundry basket full of ice and towels.
With that sort of goofy darkness at play, Addicted to Fresno could have easily turned into a Weekend at Bernie's reboot, not that there would have necessarily been a problem with that. Instead, Babbit decides to take a more character-driven route, most notably when it comes to examining the codependent toxicity of the two sisters' relationship. In a voice-over at the beginning of the film, Shannon says, "They say having a sister is like having a best friend you can't get rid of. You know whatever you do, they'll still be there ... that was never our story. Our story is about how sisters can sink each other. Really sink each other."
As big of an asshole as Shannon is, she's likeable enough that you hope she doesn't blow a possible relationship with a co-worker (Malcolm Barrett) and ruin her connection with her sister. Martha, meanwhile, is a well-meaning sibling, but you can't help but hope she forgets about her unrequited love and the urge to martyr herself in the name of "fixing" her sister and finally notices the fitness instructor (Aubrey Plaza) who is so clearly smitten with her.
While the film does have a soul, it's a raunchy one. It's an opportunity offender like the Ivan Reitman and Mel Brooks screwball comedies of yore. One particular sequence that comes to mind involves Shannon and Martha fighting on a bed filled with one dollar bills and a plethora of purple dildos. I can honestly say I've never seen so many purple dildos in one movie. But a movie can't rely on purple dildos alone. Thankfully Babbitt's film has Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne's talents on hand to bring Karey Dornetto's pleasantly twisted screenplay to life.