Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/22/16 00:09:20

"Well, Sort Of Fabulous"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

I should probably preface this review of “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie,” the long-gestating screen version of the beloved 90s British television comedy, by stating that I went into the screening with a basic knowledge and understanding of the series—i have seen, and for the most part liked, some of the episodes from its initial 1992-96 run when it played in the U.S. on Comedy Central and definitely remember the commercials that played incessantly during “Mystery Science Theater 3000”—but with nowhere near the level of devotion that its ardent fanbase on both sides of the pond have lavished on it over the years. However, when I went into that screening, I was most definitely in the mood for a laugh or two and while the resulting film may leave the uninitiated baffled, its cult will certainly love it despite its flaws and even the more casual fans will find themselves laughing at the sheer fizzy nonsense of it all.

For those unfamiliar with the series, a brief primer is perhaps in order. The creation of comedienne Jennifer Saunders, the show featured her as Edina Monsoon, a constantly addled PR agent of questionable merit who spends her days getting drunk and stoned while ignoring her dwindling client base in a constant search for the next big fad that will make her seem young, hip and with-it. Her partner in crime and inebriation is Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), a fashion magazine editor whose indulgences are so pronounced that they almost make Edina’s seem moderate by comparison. Others in their orbit, willingly or not, are Saffron (Julia Sawalha), Edina’s eternally put-upon daughter who has been forced to be the responsible one in their relationship practically since birth, Edina’s mother (June Whitfield), a woman who is, to be fair, enough of a pill to drive someone to take all the drugs, and Bubble (Jane Horrocks), the poor dim-witted soul who ended up with the job of serving as Edina’s personal assistant. The supporting cast would grow over time but the central focus of the program was the increasingly bizarre situations that the co-dependent duo would get themselves into—imagine a cross between the various antics of Lucy & Ethel and Withnail and I and you will get the general idea.

As the film opens, with our heroines we can see that time has not slowed Edina and Patsy nor their appetites in the slightest cluelessly stumbling their way through a show during London’s Fashion Week before barely making it through the door of Edina’s home, where Saffron is again living along with her own teenage daughter, Lola (Indeyama Donaldson-Holness). Now that her client list as dwindled to the point where her biggest remaining clients include Lulu and Baby Spice, Edina has decided that the best way to turn her fortunes around is to publish her memoirs but when her efforts—which lack the inventiveness of the works of Jack Torrance—are brutally rejected (“Your life may be worth living, but it’s not worth reading.”), she has to figure out another way to be able to afford the life to which she has grown accustomed. Potential salvation arrives in the eternally svelte form of supermodel Kate Moss, who has just sacked her PR agent and who will be attending a party thrown by Patsy’s magazine that night. All goes well, or as well as can be where these two are involved, but things go bad when Edina inadvertently knocks Kate into the Thames and quickly get worse when she doesn’t resurface.

While the world mourns the loss of the fashion icon, Edina becomes a pariah as she is hounded by the police, the press and millions of fans—Stella McCartney herself even flings a personally signed brick through her window—and Patsy loses her job as well. With no money, no immediate prospects and the very real possibility of Edina landing in jail, the two realize that there is only one way out of their situations—they must flee to the French Riviera so that Patsy can look up an incredibly rich old flame and marry him so that the two of them, and presumably the guy as well, can live happily ever after on his vast fortune. To get there, however, requires bringing Lola along (as she is the only one of them with a functioning credit card), but eventually, the three are off with Saffron in pursuit. No fair to say what happens from this point on but suffice to say, we get to see them dealing with the world’s cheapest airline, an unexpected marriage, car chases through the streets of Cannes and a climactic reference to the famous closing moments of “Some Like It Hot” in which gender fluidity hits monsoon-like proportions.

Since the film itself is little more than an extended and expanded television episode, anyone going into “AbFab: The Movie” without any working knowledge of the series is likely to be fairly befuddled by the entire thing and wonder what exactly is so funny about the sight of a couple of women of a certain age, as they say (actually several years beyond the notion of “a certain age,” but never mind), stumbling around acting like greedy, self-absorbed drunken idiots. This is all for the best because I think that any attempt to try to soften the edges of Edina and Patsy in order to make them more palatable to a wider audience would have been doomed to failure—newcomers would still probably have been alienated while fans would have been appalled at the notion of kinder, gentler versions of their favorite characters. Instead, Saunders and director Mandie Fletcher are content to cook up one outrageous situation after another—oftentimes punctuated by wild physical schtick and the hilariously over-the-top fashions created by costume designer Rebecca Hale—and while not all of them hit their marks, enough of them do so that you don’t ever get the sense that it is just a bloated TV episode. And while it is blessedly free of any moments of deep introspection, it does find some kind of profound meaning, or as close as it will ever come to such a thing, during a point when Lola asks Edina why Patsy still stays with her and Patsy simply responds “Because it’s bloody good fun.”

Saunders and Lumely slip back into their iconic roles with delightful ease and without trying to tamp down the excesses of their characters—they may be older but they are blessedly none the wiser. Staggering through their misadventures with only the vaguest comprehension of what is going on around them and dispensing hilariously venomous comments at everyone but each other, the two of them continue to be one of the more inspired comedy teams of our time. Even when the jokes themselves occasionally fall flat, the two generate the kind of genuine audience goodwill that helps to make the weaker material seem funnier than it is. Fans of the show will be happy to see that most of the colorful supporting cast that it acquired over the years have turned up here as well in brief bits. (The biggest disappointment about the film is that it doesn’t give the always-wonderful Judith Sawalha that much to do as the beloved Saffron). The film is also stuffed to the gills with arguably the most celebrity cameo appearances in one film since "The Player” (I would guess that roughly half the performers appearing in the end credits are billed as “himself” or “herself”)—everyone from the top names in the British fashion industry to Jon Hamm, who we learn had a surprising interaction with Patsy at the tender age of 15—and most of them prove to be reasonably amusing. Even Kate Moss demonstrate a level of humor and self-deprecation here that one might not ordinarily reconcile with the cool and aloof image that she has cultivated over the last couple of decades.

“Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” is not exactly a groundbreaking work of cinematic art and, unlike the hangovers suffered by the two main characters, there is not that much about that will linger with you for long after it ends. And yet, it does the one thing that most comedies these days fail to do—it makes us laugh—and to see, right on the heels of “Ghostbusters,” a film that allows women to traffic in the same kind of goofball slob comedy that men have been offering up for decades is a breath of fresh air. After seeing this film, you will have laughed a lot, reconfirmed the notion that Kate Moss is a goddess living among us morals, learned absolutely nothing of value and be craving a stiff drink or six. Somehow, that seems about right.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.