Inside Out 2015: Fresno
Jamie Babbitt (But I’m a Cheerleader, Itty Bitty Titty Committee) returns to this year’s event with her latest film Fresno. With Judy Greer making her second appearance at the festival and queer favourite Natasha Lyonne joining forces as sisters with a strained past, what the director has delivered is a darkly comedic film about learning to recover from the mistakes we’ve made and taking responsibility for our actions.
Shannon (Greer) is a registered sex offender who has just been released from rehab. To help her get back on her feet, her sister Martha (Lyonne) gets her a job as a maid at small hotel in deeply depressing Fresno, California. Shannon continues her promiscuous ways behind her sister’s back, sleeping with anyone who will take her. When Martha catches her with a hotel guest, Shannon pretends that he was raping her so that her sister doesn’t find out she’s not better. The scuffle results in the man being accidentally murdered. The two sisters must then concoct a plan to cover up the ordeal and to get rid of the dead body.
The two come up with various outlandish schemes but ultimately land on pretending he is their dead dog and approach a pet crematorium. When the owners discover that it’s a human body, they blackmail the sisters for $25,000. In running around trying to get the money together and struggling to work together, Shannon and Martha are forced to deal with their difficult past. This leads them both on self-discovery journeys that allow them to finally start healing and sending them on the road to becoming better people.
A well-known cast of supporting actors also make appearances throughout the film. One standout in particular was actress Aubrey Plaza, who plays Martha’s love interest. The character she plays here is personable and charming and is a departure from the deadpan acting style she is known for. It can be seen as growth for Plaza. Humours moments also come from appearances by Molly Shannon as the sister of the dead man, Fred Armisen and Allison Tolman as the co-owners of the crematorium, and Jessica St. Clair who plays the naive leader of the front desk operations at the hotel.
The film has a mixed tone that causes it to not always be successful in what it’s trying to teach. At times the farcical comedy is in conflict with the quieter, intimate moments of inner reflection and growth. It works best when the messages of being accountable for ones own actions are strongly coming through and the overall film would have been stronger if it had had a more dramatic tone throughout the entire story.
This film likely won’t go down as one of the director’s best works but it does contain moments of strong performances and allows some of the actors involved some change to the types of roles they’ve taken in the past. It’s an entertaining film but likely won’t go down as a classic of queer cinema.
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