Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)
Release Date: July 22nd, 2016 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Mandie Fletcher Actors: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness, Jane Horrocks, Chris Colfer, Lily Cole, Kate Moss, Celia Imrie, Barry Humphries
he film opens at London Fashion Week, atwitter with celebrities, models, and taste-makers – and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) and Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders). Despite their standard party-crashing escapades and drunken exploits, this introduction is no introduction at all. Just like the bevy of actors and actresses who portray themselves in “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie,” Eddy and Patsy are characters that audiences are expected to know. Anyone unfamiliar with their signature personas – or the many European fashionistas that cross in front of the screen – will be completely lost. The production by itself has no identity outside of what was established with the long-running series.
It also doesn’t help that the story is nearly nonexistent. When Edina’s book deal with Random Penguin fails to get off the ground (largely due to assistant Bubble’s use of the phrase “blah blah blah” during dictation of Edina’s biography), she looks to an opportunity to sign fashion icon Kate Moss for a PR deal. But at a lavish Huki Muki event, where Monsoon attempts to use granddaughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) as a segue into a proposition (and where Patsy attempts to re-seduce Jon Hamm), Moss is accidentally knocked into the Thames. Edina is instantly vilified by the press, leading to outrage by acquaintances and rivals alike – along with possible manslaughter charges. Determining that there’s no hope for her in England, Edina whisks Lola (for her credit card) and inseparable pal Patsy (for her connections with rich suitors) to Cannes, where they aspire to live out the rest of their years leeching from the affluent elderly.
It’s difficult to summarize the goings-on in this film without explaining the extensive amount of previous material that took place in the series from which this theatrical outing continues. And “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” certainly anticipates that viewers will consist solely of fans, because nothing is reiterated for newcomers. This is especially apparent with the recurring characters from the television show who pop in for cameos on a regular basis, as they receive no details as to how they fit into the picture. And they’re so bizarrely idiosyncratic that they definitely need some sort of preface to sort out their inexplicable weirdness (Jane Horrocks’ ludicrously eccentric Bubble is never given a formal job title or profession or relationship to the lead duo). In many ways, the project has the appearance of a “Zoolander” movie, with fantastically absurd caricatures interacting with real people. As such, American audiences will find it impossible to comprehend all the players when most of them have limited popularity outside of the U.K., just as clothing designers’ renown rarely permeates their own industry.
Fortunately, the notions of political incorrectness, the abuse of booze and pills (at one point, Patsy chugs Chanel #5 when the champagne runs out), an infatuation with retaining youthfulness, and a denial of neglectful parenting (Julia Sawalha’s Saffron is still incredibly grounded in a somber reality) are universal ideas, even if portrayed by very specific entities. But the habits, routines, and mannerisms of Edina and Patsy take precedence over genuine humor, while easy slapstick overcomes clever misadventures. Familiarity with the catchphrases or frequent nods to the interactions of the characters is not an excuse for uninspired concepts; the happenings here are not independently funny.
Nor are they all that amusing within the context of the “Absolutely Fabulous” family of gags and themes. Light satirization of the media or fame or the fashion industry can’t save this venture from an excruciating overdependence on in-jokes, brief chuckles derived from recognizable faces (though Dame Edna’s half-a-second appearance is hysterical), and distinguishing styles completely devoid of standalone humor. Watching an uninterrupted 90 minutes of Saunders and Lumley doing their shtick (most of which is so pitifully desperate and based on a total illiteracy in finances, work, responsibilities, and consequences) makes it obvious just how unfunny they must appear to non-fans. “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” is absolutely not for casual moviegoers looking for a generic comedy.
– Mike Massie