EIFF 2015 Review – Fresno (2015)


Regular scene-stealing supporting actresses Natasha Lyonne and Judy Greer are given co-leading roles in Fresno, a comic-crime caper in which they both shine.

But I’m a Cheerleader’s Jamie Babbit directs this tale which follows straight-laced Martha (Lyonne) and her sex addict sister Shannon (Greer) working as hotel maids. After accidentally killing a guest, the pair desperately search for a way to dispose of the body in the small city of Fresno in California.

Babbit’s wife, Portlandia scribe Karey Dornetto writes Fresno and utilises its two lead stars and well-known supporting players to utmost effect. Opening as a sibling comedy, polar-opposites Martha and Shannon are both living and working together – whilst earnest Martha is trying to make the best out of a bad situation, Shannon is giving into her addiction and playing the traditional ‘screw up’ role. From the onset the chemistry between Lyonne and Greer is apparent, and Dornetto gives them some great humorous dialogue and comic set-pieces to play with (a favourite being [on Shannon getting a job] “You’re lucky he thinks sex offenders fight sex crimes.”) Greer has a snarky charm, but there’s more than a hint of sadness there, whilst Lyonne is instantly loveable as the well-intentioned sibling (especially when channelling Cousin It).

Whilst the ever-transgressing sibling dynamic is always present, Fresno hits its stride when the narrative shifts with the killing of a sleazy hotel guest. What follows is a frantic rush to get rid of the body – this leads to some fun comic sequences like: visiting the victim’s family (featuring a small appearance from the great Molly Shannon as a hard Russian broad), crashing a bar mitzvah, and being bribed in a pet cemetery (run by Portlandia’s Fred Armisen). Plus, Dornetto and Babbit include one of the most outrageously amusing comic montages this year – featuring a lesbian softball conference and a multitude of dildos.

Complimenting the humour is a rather impressive dramatic streak thanks to some well-crafted relationship dynamics. There’s a romantic subplot featuring Martha and her personal trainer (played by a pitch-perfect Aubrey Plaza), continually squandered by Martha’s concern for Shannon and her own personal insecurities. There’s also a strong emotional backbone in the dynamic between Shannon and Martha in which the Lyonne’s character is pushed to breaking point by her sister’s destructive behaviour. In this we see the grimy realities and often hard-hitting outcome of sex addiction, which is never played for purely comic effect. In this subject matter, Fresno highlights both actresses’ undisputable skills as a dramatic leads – with each proving equally captivating.

Babbit manages to capture a tone that effortlessly straddles the lines between outrageous hilarity and low-key pathos, ensuring that Fresno engages throughout its swift 85 minute run-time. This one is a treat.

Andrew McArthur

Comedy | USA, 2015 | 2015 Edinburgh Film Festival |15 | Dir: Jamie Babbit | Natasha Lyonne, Judy Greer, Aubrey Plaza, Fred Armisen, Ron Livingstone, Clea DuVall, Jessica St. Clair, Molly Shannon

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