Originally, director Jamie Babbit intended to film Addicted to Fresno in Cleveland. But because of the costs associated with transporting a cast and crew from L.A. to Cleveland, Babbit decided to shoot in Fresno, a nondescript central California town. The film opens on Friday at the Cedar Lee Theatre
, and Babbit will attend the 7:10 p.m. on Friday and participate in a Q&A session after the screening. She’ll then stick around to introduce the 9:40 p.m. screening.
A dark comedy that focuses on two sisters (Natasha Lyonne and Judy Greer) who struggle to find a way to dispose of a man they accidently kill, Addicted to Fresno
is funnier than that description would imply. The film’s sharp, irreverent dialogue has turned it into a festival hit.
The script came to fruition when Babbit was dating her current wife, Karey Dornetto, who was a writer on Community
when they met. She had also written for South Park
and Arrested Development
“I told her I really needed a new script and she said she wanted to write it for me,” says Babbit via phone from her Los Angeles home. “I asked her about her ideas. She pitched me a road trip through Mexico, like a drug deal gone wrong. I said, ‘No thanks.’ She said, ‘How about a movie about me and my sister?’ I said, ‘That sounds good.’ I knew she had kind of a crazy sister. That was good for two good characters. We worked on it together. She would write a draft and I would give her notes. We did that for about two years and then we finished the screenplay and went out to look for money.”
A company called Gamechanger Films, which only gives money to women directors, took the bait. When it became apparent Cleveland wasn’t going to work out, Babbit started scouting locations.
“It was either Bakersfield or Fresno and when we saw Fresno, we said, ‘This works.’ We just needed an underdog city,” she explains. “The idea between the sisters is that one still lives in their hometown. It’s about the conflict between two siblings when one leaves their hometown and one doesn’t.”
The film’s also about therapy (and how it doesn’t always work). But if anyone is qualified to criticize the pros and cons of therapy, it’s Babbit.
“My mom started New Directions, which is a rehab in Solon, Ohio,” she says “I grew up around addicts and my grandmother was a sex addict. Everyone I know growing up was in some 12-step program. I wanted to explore that with one of the sister characters. Just because you go to rehab doesn’t mean you’re better. It’s about what happens when you go home after rehab and you have to rebalance the way it was. My brother went to rehab and when he came back from rehab, our whole family had to change. The movie is sort of about that too.”
Babbit gets great performances out of both Lyonne, whom she cast in her first feature, But I’m a Cheerleader
, and Greer.
“It was soon after Cheerleader
that [Natasha Lyonne] ended up going to rehab,” says Babbit. “She really related to the movie. She has been so great on Orange is the New Black. As a friend, I watched her blossom in her life. I was really excited to work with her. She was always attached in my mind when we were writing the script. I was working with Judy Greer on the FX show Married. I loved working with her and asked her to play Natasha’s sister. Natasha played a similar character to this character in But I’m a Cheerleader
. I knew she could play a bubbly people pleaser, but in real life, she’s a hardcore New Yorker. She’s a great actress and she can do it all. Judy is a nice, people-pleasing Midwesterner from Detroit. To go into this addict’s mind was a stretch, but she’s a great actress. She brings Midwestern-ness to a character who’s an addict.”
The film centers on an unexpected death — not exactly the type of thing you’d expect in a comedy — but Babbit says she enjoys the challenge of finding a balance between tragedy and comedy
“But I’m a Cheerleader
, my first movie, was a wacky comedy set in a gay rehab,” she says. “It was very controversial at the time because I was making a comedy in such a dark place. There were some genuine emotions in it too. I like dark comedy that also has a human side. It’s a tightrope but it’s something that I’m interested in. I like movies that make me laugh and have dark humor and some of an emotional core.”