I should start off by saying I’m an Absolutely Fabulous virgin. I had never seen a single episode of the cult 1990s British sitcom before I saw the movie version that comes out this week. Judge me for it if you will, but back in the 1990s, my taste in British comedy ran more to Blackadder. Maybe that’s why watching the film gave me the distinct sensation of being invited to a great party and then being ignored by everyone. Or maybe what was provocative 20 years ago is tame stuff now. Or maybe the movie just isn’t very good.
It all takes place in the present day, where Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) still has her job as a fashion editor for a tony British magazine, but Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) finds her P.R. business flailing in the digital age and still lives with her put-upon daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha), who now has a 13-year-old daughter of her own (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness). When Edina tries to rescue her business by landing Kate Moss (who plays herself) as a client, she accidentally kills the supermodel instead and winds up a fugitive from justice and –– worse –– a pariah in the fashion industry. Stranded in the south of France, Edina and the now-unemployed Patsy scheme to marry rich men so that they’ll never have to go back home.
This movie is only 90 minutes, and yet it’s padded out with cameos from international celebrities (Jon Hamm, Stella McCartney, Jean-Paul Gaultier) and celebrities who are famous only in the U.K. (Graham Norton, Daisy Lowe, Ruby Wax). The only guest star turn that hits is an all-too-brief one from Rebel Wilson as a bargain-basement airline’s flight attendant who tazes Patsy. The comic set pieces, like the one when Patsy dresses up as a man to wed an extremely old and wealthy baroness (Marcia Warren) and the one when Saffy calms an enraged crowd at a gay club by singing “At Seventeen,” mostly land with a thud. I counted exactly one instance where I laughed out loud, and that was when Edina holes up in her house during the initial post-Kate controversy and her assistant Bubble (Jane Horrocks) hands her a huge stack of mail, saying, “Your death threats, milady.”
This affair is largely stuck in the 1990s, and while it makes eminent sense that Patsy and Edina would do everything to beat back the aging process, neither director Mandie Fletcher nor screenwriter Saunders do enough with the idea. The scene in which Patsy seeks out a disgusting porn king ex-boyfriend (Barry Humphries, who also shows up here as Dame Edna Everage) leads to a realization that rich men no longer find her attractive, a development that could be scarring or darkly funny. Instead, it just sits there. Patsy and Edina should have been left in their decade, where we could imagine them partying it up and smoking weird substances with the Spice Girls and Liam Gallagher. Bringing them out now does no favors to them or us.
[box_info]Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Starring Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley. Directed by Mandie Fletcher. Written by Jennifer Saunders. Rated R.[/box_info]