Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie | Review
Filth and Wisdom: Saunders and Lumley Can’t Get Back to Where They Started From
This wheel doesn’t so much as explode as it does simply fizzle out in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, the first big screen iteration of flunky PR guru Edina Monsoon and her floozy bestie Patsy Stone, those crass mavens of ripe and ribald femininity who so gloriously scorched the small screen in the famed series throughout the 1990s and early 2000s across five seasons and three one-off hour long specials. For women and gay men cognizant of pop culture during the series’ heyday, one is hard pressed to point to any television series more brazen, progressive, and effortlessly hilarious than the one inhabited by these iconic, hedonistic gal pals. And so it is with utter disappointment to disparage their cinematic revival as merely a tired echo of recycled moments from their greatest hits, a retread of particularly cheap consistency which will indubitably be enjoyed most by the property’s patrons, but resignedly for nostalgia’s sake. Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley have lost none of their chemistry, and watching them engage in their usual irresponsible, ridiculous fripperies feels akin to reuniting with old friends for a jolly bender. But this is a mere pale echo of the onslaught on good taste inspired by the original series, and unfortunately, the uninitiated don’t get a glimpse of their genius with this outing.
Struggling to make ends meet after her book deal falls through and her ex-husband announces he can longer assist her with the bills thanks to his impending gender reassignment, eternally shallow publicist Edie Monsoon (Saunders) mulls a new scheme to secure revenue. When BFF Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) accidentally discovers supermodel Kate Moss is currently without representation, Edie snatches thirteen year old granddaughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) from under the nose of her resigned mum Saffie (Julie Sawalha) and attempts to use her as a ruse to coerce the fashion icon into signing with her. But in a scuffle involving her age-old nemesis Claudia Bing (Celia Imrie) as they attend a swank fashion event, Moss gets knocked into the Thames and is feared to have drowned. Caught up in a media firestorm as the woman responsible for the death of Kate Moss forces Edie and Patsy to abscond, leading them to Cannes, where Patsy seeks an old, rich flame she is convinced she’ll fool into marrying her and thus funding their banishment from Britain.
The distinctive energy audiences cherish in most popular television series is usually lost in translation when fashioned into a major motion picture outfit. Whenever a film title is accompanied by the phrase The Movie in anything more than an URL it tends to be indicative of a gimmick. Much like the big screen version of Strangers with Candy, the cinematic equivalent of AbFab seems less daring, more superficial, and decidedly unfunny in comparison with the achievements of the television series. Television alum Mandie Fletcher takes a crack at directing her first narrative feature since 1994’s Deadly Advice, and the end result is something which looks a helluva lot tackier and cheap than the one hour series specials actually made for TV. But even this scenario, drawn up by Saunders, seems content with revamping successful moments from the series to cobble together an inane narrative wherein the not-so-dynamic duo is on the lam after accidentally killing supermodel Kate Moss (one of an endless parade of distracting, usually unnecessary cameos). DP Chris Goodger spritzs Edie’s residence with a glossy, sitcom sheen, while its French Riviera set finale is a sun dappled eyesore. Presumably, the project had a much higher budget than whatever the BBC allotted, but the glassy veneer of the film seems spackled with low-cost, as if its edges would warp and crinkle if introduced to heat.
A familiarity with the series is an actual necessity when approaching the film version, since time is not allotted to explain the significant background of certain characters, particularly the conflicted relationship between Edie and Saffie (Sawalha gets a much earned mini-meltdown with the use of expletives, a meaningful moment lost to those who only have the parameters of this film to go by). Others are completely wasted, such as doddering June Whitfield as Edie’s mum, or the daffy Jane Horrocks as the infernally frustrating PA Bubble. Worse, several newcomers are either too kooky in their need to score attention (hair stylist Chris Colfer), or curiously underwhelming, like Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness as Lola, the bi-racial grandchild (a character whose initial incarnation was one of the most socially subversive critiques in the entire series).
Still, despite the significant gripes of a film which lands far beneath the talents of these comedic athletes, one would be remiss not to add how lovely it is to revisit Saunders and Lumley, who still look exquisitely vibrant, virile, and are every bit the insufferable messes they once were. When Kylie Minogue begins to croon her cover version of the “This Wheel’s on Fire” theme, we’re left with the bittersweet pallor of a missed opportunity and an uninspired reunion.