FRESNO Review | SXSW 2015

     March 23, 2015

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I love my sister, but we’re two very different people, so when Fresno opens with the line, “They say having a sister is like having a best friend you can’t get rid of,” I totally get it. However, then Judy Greer’s character continues by adding, “Our story is about how sisters can sink each other.” It’s only mere seconds into the movie, but it foreshadows Fresno’s biggest problems – it’s a bit mean-spirited, not very funny and doesn’t seem to know what it’s trying to say about sibling relationships.

Greer and Natasha Lyonne play Shannon and Martha, two sisters who couldn’t be more different. Whereas Martha is happy to be living in Fresno, California and super proud that she’s employee of the month at the Fresno Suites where she works as a maid, Shannon’s a recovering sex addict who couldn’t care less about anyone or anything, especially the fact that Martha’s putting her own job on the line by scoring Shannon a gig as a hotel maid as well.

There’s certainly some fun to be had with Greer and Lyonne’s performances, but Shannon and Martha are frustratingly one-dimensional characters. All we ever hear about is how Shannon’s a registered sex offender and for a good deal of the film, she embraces the title, sleeps with everyone she can possibly get her hands on and completely sabotages herself and her sister. Shannon is so desperate for sex that she sleeps with an especially unappealing hotel guest, Martha catches them in the act and Shannon’s knee-jerk reaction is to pretend that she’s being raped. There’s some screaming and stumbling, and eventually, Shannon accidentally knocks the guy out, killing him. Due to Shannon’s sex offender status, they come to the conclusion that no one would believe he was raping her so they decide to cover it up in order to keep her out of prison. It’s completely preposterous and even worse, it’s not funny.

Greer and Lyonne are charming to a degree, but they can’t fix the fact that the Fresno script is completely flat and doesn’t make much sense. There are a couple of jokes that play well, namely Lyonne’s Cousin Itt impression and watching the pair try to rob a sex shop wearing toilet paper masks, but for the most part, it’s all crickets. A more layered, thoughtful relationship could have saved the film, but Fresno doesn’t have that either.

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Image via SXSW

When I say things like, “having a sister is like having a best friend you can’t get rid of,” I mean it in a playful manner. Fresno takes it a little too literally. Shannon certainly isn’t thrilled to be living with Martha and while Martha is initially happy to have her sister home, eventually Shannon becomes a problem she can’t get rid of. Perhaps that could have been a decent start to a journey that ultimately reveals Shannon and Martha need each other, but that’s not how things play out. In fact, the movie almost winds up saying the opposite, that Shannon and Martha are better off apart.

There’s no fun to be had with the humor and there’s no reason to care about the characters, so then it becomes absolutely impossible to overlook the vast amount of absurd decision-making and plot holes. How does this hotel not have a service elevator? Why didn’t someone get Molly Shannon a better wig? Do Shannon and Martha really think that robbing a sex shop and selling dildos will get them the money they need? Fresno isn’t supposed to be a grounded, realistic film, but you can’t take Shannon and Martha’s mission seriously in the least because it doesn’t even come across as a comedy of errors. It’s just the two of them making blatantly stupid decisions.

Fresno’s strongest moments are when it actually pulls the reins on the comedy and gets real. However, one of the only times that happens is during this one scene Greer shares with Malcolm Barrett. There’s no madcap comedy or goofy behavior. They simply talk about the things that they care about. Yes, Fresno is a comedy, but that doesn’t mean it can do without heart and more genuine moments like this one could have given it some.

Grade: C

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