‘Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie’
Director: Mandie Fletcher
Stars: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley
3 (out of 5) Globes
In the “Absolutely Fabulous” movie, the screen is twice as wide as it once was, when the show bowed in 1992. Our debauched anti-heroes are, to their horror, a quarter-century older and a touch doughier. The world has moved online, leaving them behind in the overcast of cusp-of-Brexit Britain. But that just means more champagne flutes, coke-stained mirrors and pocket-sized collagen needles for them. The new “Star Wars” was basically the first “Star Wars,” and the “AbFab” movie is basically a super-long episode of the show. Where the former’s unoriginality stemmed from a lack of nerve, with the latter it’s an act of defiance. Against all odds, the 60ish Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley’s Edina and Patsy stay resolutely YOLO, a term they themselves would have coined had they had any awareness of Internet-ese
Their movie is so them, too: gleefully nasty, sarcastic even when sentimental, sloppy rather than polished, and old school politically incorrect enough to include not one but two trans jokes. In 2016, they’re as much an English tradition as tea and nationalism, and just as keyed-up. Introduced obliviously mucking up a fashion show, our pair assume the future’s the same as it ever was. It’s so “AbFab” that their big epiphany only comes when they notice Edi’s champagne fridge is empty: The world has passed them by. They are, as Edi puts it, “fat and old” — the last ones kicking at a ’90s-themed party. Their hustle to get back on top is torpedoed when Edi, at an all-star party, seems to have accidentally killed Kate Moss.
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That the entire nation mourns this event is one of too few killer jokes in a movie that seems as out of it as its protagonists. Despite the upgrade in scale, the “AbFab” movie looks somehow uglier than old BBC video, and Saunders seems to have written the script in one wine-fueled evening, assuming that she and Lumley could charm their way to a goal. She wasn’t wrong. Saunders’ vaguely dazed shuffling-about and Lumley’s permanent sneer remain a potent cocktail, particularly when the latter is struggling heroically to remember what “cash” is called and can only come up with “hand money.”
It could stand to be a tad more together. When it is it draws blood. Turned into tabloid pariahs, Edi and Patsy sneak off to sunny Cannes, hoping to play gold diggers. What they find is the old men now cavort with leggy young babes, while fellow aging femmes are segregated in the same shadowy hotel bar, cursed to live out their days forgotten by society. The melancholy runs deep, with two women boasting an epic lack of self-awareness suddenly forced to embrace their obsolescence.
But would it be “AbFab” if they embraced their fate? (Actually, we're asking: This writer has only seen a handful of clips, never an entire episode.) Edi and Patsy don’t roll like that, and their attempts to get back on top are happily moronic, sometimes that now dreaded word, “problematic.” It doesn’t try to play for newbies, and it relentlessly kowtows to the fans. Every time a supporting fave swings by, even for a token one-liner, it’s rewarded with applause, though you’d have to be a fashionista or a top-rung Anglophile to spot every one of the 60 cameos. (We caught 16, the most unlikely participant being stern-but-hilarious newsman Jeremy Paxman.)
It’s the equivalent of a Trekkie convention: catnip for die-hards, largely inexplicable to neophytes, who might point out that its attempt to mimic the final joke in “Some Like It Hot” is so weak it isn’t even first draft. Still, you don’t need to have binge-watched the 39 episodes and handful of specials to see why Saunders and especially Lumley are gods.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge