SXSW 2015 Review: Say No To ‘Fresno’

Fresno gets off to a great start with unapologetically bad behavior in a clever raunchy comedy, but it can’t sustain it past the first act. It’s probably worth seeing for that first act and it’s never bad to spend the rest of the film watching Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne, but it’s a shame the material can’t stay on top.

Shannon (Greer) has just gotten out of rehab for sex addiction, so her sister Martha (Lyonne) got her a job with her as hotel maids in Fresno. When they get into a crime caper, the sisters stick together trying to save Shannon from prison.

These may be the funniest sex offender jokes I’ve ever seen. Shannon is ironically gleeful about her status as a registered sex offender and it helps that it’s coming from women, but it’s kind of the last comedy taboo. It works because Shannon is selfish, but not insensitive to the gravity of the crime. They make rape jokes too, at an innocent man’s expense, and it’s funny because it’s so wrong. Even one of Shannon’s SA meetings has a hilarious rock bottom story that involves Oprah.


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Once it becomes a crime caper, it’s less funny. Shannon and Martha meet a series of wacky characters doing lame schtick to cover their tracks. These include broad foreigners, bickering morticians and bar mitzvah boys with predictable Jewish jokes. It’s a shame the clever perspective taken towards taboo subjects wasn’t applied to the overly familiar comedy fodder.

The final heist is ridiculous, depending on a contrived situation that would never exist for practical reasons. The setup isn’t a spoiler, but it’s a bar mitzvah with a safe for cash only gifts. Even in a ridiculous comedy, why would anyone ask for cash only gifts and why would anyone bring cash in a quantity worth even considering stealing? It would result in far less generous gifts simply for the practicality of withdrawing the cash in this modern electronic age, but the movie needs there to be a pot of cash in a wacky environment. I won’t tell you happens because that would be a spoiler. It’s just the setup is infuriatingly sloppy.


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The raunchy jokes dealing with taboos are clever, but the mere presence of dildos is not itself funny. One joke about ice in the soda machine is funnier than all the dildos. There is an odd continuity error where in one scene Shannon tells Martha she suggested robbing hotel rooms to get the money they need, but that’s not what she said in an earlier scene. She’d suggested robbing the front desk. They must have shot those scenes out of order and didn’t even do ADR to make them match.

It is really nice to see Greer play a sexy character, even if it is a sex offender and relapsing sex addict. There’s a pity and desperation there, but the fact is she’s appealing. She’s just using her assets self-destructively. A romantic subplot about Martha romancing a her trainer (Aubrey Plaza) is sweet and the cast is so appealing that there’s a lot to like about Fresno. It’s just frustrating when you’re watching them go through bits that aren’t going to get any funnier, but now they’re so far in they’ve got to see them through.


 Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.


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