For the Sisters: Addicted to Fresno
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 film was released in the United States on September 1 through Video On Demand, and is scheduled to be released in a limited release on October 2. We caught up with director Jamie Babbit as she was driving to work in Los Angeles.
Talk about how you first came across the film’s script.
I was dating the writer Karey Dornetto and she was a writer on Community when we met. She had written South Park and Arrested Development. I told her I really needed a new script and she said she wanted to write it for me. 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. This company called Gamechanger Films, which only gives money to women directors, just started. We had a meeting with them and they agreed to produce the movie. We were originally going to shoot in Cleveland and it was too expensive and also Aubrey Plaza was in the movie. She was still doing Parks and Recreation and could only give us Saturday and Sunday. We needed to be ten minutes from her apartment to work with her. We thought about what the Cleveland of California. It was either Bakersfield or Fresno and when we saw Fresno, we said, “This works.” We just needed an underdog city. The idea between the sisters is that one still lives in their hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. It’s about the conflict between two siblings when one leaves their hometown and one doesn’t.
Talk about the mix of comedy and drama in the film.
But I’m a Cheerleader, my first movie, was a wacky comedy set in a gay rehab. 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.
It’s also about therapy. Talk about that theme.
My mom started New Directions, which is a rehab in Solon, Ohio. 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.
The therapy sessions in the film are hilarious. Do you put stock in rehab?
I put a lot of stock in rehab. I think it works. I also think there are people who go to rehab and have no intention of rehabilitating themselves. It’s a ripe area for satire in much the same way that I’m gay and I made a comedy about gay rehab. I’m very pro-gay. I just know a lot about it. I’ve been to meetings where the things people are saying are perfect for satire.
It’s a terrific cast. Can you talk a bit about Natasha Lyonne and Judy Greer and what they bring to the movie?
Natasha I knew from But I’m a Cheerleader. It was soon after Cheerleader that she ended up going to rehab. 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 and Aubrey [Plaza] are friends in real life and Natasha asked Aubrey to do the movie.
Are they cast against type?
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 sweet, nice, She’s 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 bar mitzah scene is particularly hilarious and could be a scene out of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Talk about what you like about it.
Growing in Shaker Heights, I probably went to about 50 so I was excited when Carrie wrote that scene. We were looking for a way for the main character to get money. As we all know, bar mitzahs are a good place for that. It seemed like a ripe place for satire. Natasha is from Israel and one of the first place it premiered was at the Tel Aviv film festival.
Who wrote the song’s x-rated lyrics?
The writer wrote those lyrics. The kid was really excited. He’s Armenian and not Jewish. He’d never been to a bar mitvah. He was excited to rap. He told me after the movie that he was at an Armenian party and his parents encouraged him to perform the rap. They were all horrified.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently going to work on the Rob Lowe/Fred Savage show The Grinder. That’s next up. It’s on Fox.