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Babbit, Lyonne Reteam for ‘Addicted to Fresno’

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“Addicted to Fresno,” from director Jamie Babbit and starring Judy Greer (“Arrested Development,” “The Descendants”) and Natasha Lyonne (“Orange Is the New Black”), is available On Demand today and in theaters Oct. 2.

Before the respected film and TV director (“Rizzoli & Isles,” “Married”) made “Addicted to Fresno,” she made a delightful, quirky feature that also starred Lyonne, called “But I’m a Cheerleader.” Both films have Babbit’s meticulous attention to visual details combined with darkly comedic and sophisticated dialogue, to tell a quirky tale with an underlying message.

“But I’m a Cheerleader,” Babbit’s first feature, was a savvy commentary on conversion therapy and a bold project for its time. Babbit was shooting the film in a big house down a desolate road near the high desert area where space shuttles used to land, when I got an assignment to go to the set to meet Babbit and producer Andrea Sperling (also a producer on “Addicted to Fresno”).

Meeting the director for the first time, she was (and still is) friendly and intelligent and ballsy and fun. But I admit that I choked when she asked me about Lyonne’s hair.

Natasha Lyonne has big hair. Big, blond, curly locks that could probably hold extra carry-on items if necessary. But as the “Cheerleader,” Lyonne wore a straight, blond, orderly wig that covered her curls, but not so naturally that I could answer when Babbit asked: Does it look real?

I had a deer-in-the-headlights moment and could only muster an awkward shrug. It turned out that the “Cheerleader” ‘do sort of defined Lyonne’s sweet, orderly, good-girl character.

Lyonne’s natural mane is used to great effect in “Addicted to Fresno,” exemplifying the unruly, out-of-control predicaments in which her character, Martha (a sweet, hardworking lesbian and an enabler to her sex-addicted, screw-up of a sister), finds herself.

Underlying all the absurdity of this film is a story of family loyalty and unconditional love.

“Addicted to Fresno” is the first feature film for veteran TV writer Karey Dornetto (“Portlandia,” “South Park”), who also happens to be Babbit’s wife. She’s penned a dark, outrageous ride into the desolate Central Valley city that she admits was inspired by her relationship with her own sister. The script is funny, clever and heartfelt, rarely feeling implausible, which is significant for a film that’s about a recovering sex addict (Greer), who accidentally kills a hotel guest, after her supportive, employee-of-the-month sister (Lyonne), helps her land a job as a maid.

The talented Judy Greer is dead-on as Shannon, the mean-spirited pessimistic sister fresh out of sex addiction rehab, who’s good at burning bridges with her sarcasm and selfishness. It isn’t until later that we understand why, so it takes awhile to warm to her character.

Meanwhile, Martha does her best to keep Shannon on track, spouting some of my favorite lines, such as her serious retort to Shannon’s snide response to their special-needs boss: “You’re lucky he thinks sex offenders fight sex crimes.”

When the sisters rob a sex shop to pay off blackmailers, she notes, “Who knew a sex shop was such a cash-poor business,” as they escape with a trunk load of dildos instead of dollars.

When the sisters finally duke it out over the death of the hotel guest, the sex-toy fiasco, etc., Shannon asks Martha why she doesn’t go ahead and blame her for “mom dying of cancer and dad drinking himself to death.”

When Martha replies, “I already do,” it appears to land like a pillowcase full of bricks to Shannon’s gut.

Both siblings have their issues, but one of the hardest decisions for Martha, to which some viewers can probably relate, is at what point do you stop helping a family member (who can’t or won’t conform to societal norms enough to survive on their own), in order to save yourself?

The film also stars Aubrey Plaza as Martha’s love interest, Molly Shannon, Clea Duvall, Allison Tolman, Jessica St. Clair, Fred Armisen, Malcolm Barrett, Beth Grant Jon Daly, Edward Barbanell, and Ron Livingston.

“Addicted to Love” is in theaters Oct. 2.

Journalist Laurie Schenden covers the entertainment industry, with many of her notable celebrity interviews appearing in the Los Angeles Times and other national and international publications. As a longtime columnist and feature writer for the LA Times, she also covered events and California destinations for the lifestyle, Outdoors and Travel sections. Laurie Schenden's international pieces include the long-running Where Are They Now celebrity feature for Spotlight Magazine, published in five languages. Laurie has also contributed to numerous documentary films, and is currently producing a documentary for her own company, Saving Grace Films.

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