Addicted to Fresno, Jamie Babbit's newest film starring Judy Greer, Natasha Lyonne and Aubrey Plaza, feels like the kind of movie that could have been improvised the entire way through. The low-budget dark comedy certainly has the talent, for one thing, with Greer, Lyonne and Plaza leading an ensemble that also features Jessica St. Clair (Playing House), Fred Armisen and Molly Shannon. But although it might feel like Addicted to Fresno is all improv, there really is a script, the first feature screenplay written by Portlandia and Community writer Karey Dornetto. However, the actors were given plenty of room for improv, with some taking greater advantage of the freedom than others.
When the film premiered at SXSW, Babbit and Dornetto admitted that while some actors — St. Clair, Armison and Kumail Nanjiani — did a lot of improv on set, most of the final cut of the film (out Sept. 2) is pretty close to the original script. But Babbit revealed that she struggled when deciding whether or not to include certain improvised scenes. "I will say that the editing was more challenging, just because we had so much footage and we had a lot of improv," Babbit said in an interview with aintitcool.com. "Cutting through it, and also screening it for people, because you forget what's funny, just to remember."
In Addicted to Fresno, Natasha Lyonne plays Martha, a young lesbian who is balancing her relationship with her girlfriend, played by Plaza, with taking care of her sister, Shannon (Judy Greer), who is fresh out of rehab for her sex addiction. Martha helps Shannon get her act together, including getting Shannon a job as a maid at the hotel where Martha works. Things quickly spiral out of control when Shannon accidentally kills a hotel guest, causing the sisters to get blackmailed by characters played by Armisen and Allison Tolman (Fargo).
The female-run environment (and crazy nature of the plot) helped leads Greer and Lyonne feel free enough to improvise, according to Lyonne. Speaking with Indiewire, the actress said that "The amazing thing about working with all women is that, in my experience, my voice as a human being becomes a lot stronger in terms of opinions or thoughts or trying out ideas. Judy's a master at improvising and I was really playing catch up."
Lyonne explained that she felt liberated by the fact that the people in charge were women, because she didn't feel pressure to please a male audience. "There was no impulse to want to please a male ideal or a man's point of view of how a woman behaves," Lyonne added, noting that she liked having a "girl's club."
Greer agreed, saying that, as much as she hates to admit it, "sometimes I think if there's a dude around, it just changes things."
"For us, as women, this is becoming our terrain too. It feels like we're here with our female cast and crew, and we get to do whatever the f--k we want to. We don't actually want anyone in here mucking it up for us. We want to focus and do our work and be ourselves," Lyonne concluded.
And as Fresno shows, letting Lyonne and her co-stars act so freely is a very good idea.
Images: Gravitas Ventures; Giphy