August 26 — September 01
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.
The BBC comedy series Absolutely Fabulous (“Ab Fab”) ran for fewer than 40 episodes in the early ‘90s, but it developed a rabid cult following not only in the U.K. but among American viewers who caught in on late-night PBS or Comedy Central. The premise was simple: Edina (Jennifer Saunders, the show’s creator) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) are buddies whose relationship is based as much on enabling alcohol and drug use, wild sexual adventures, and antisocial behavior as it is on actual friendship. They’re single, independent women in positions of apparent power—Edina runs a PR agency and Patsy is a magazine editor—and in more traditional TV series, they’d be exemplary role models for strong women. The joke is that their self-absorption, lack of empathy, and unapologetic hedonism make them anything but feminist idols. Yet there’s something oddly endearing about them—they’re so clueless, and their pursuits backfire so frequently, that Edina and Patsy become anti-heroines of a sort. By following their base appetites for sex, drugs, and material possessions, they’re only doing what male comics have done for ages. Ab Fab was refreshing and politically-incorrect. Edina and Patsy didn’t want to be icons—they just wanted fun. It was a relief from typical sitcom piety. Invading the American airwaves at the dawn of the Bill Clinton presidency, Ab Fab struck a chord with Baby Boomers. But how would Edina and Patsy adapt to a 21st century context, after an era of recession, terrorist fear, foreign wars, and ugly political dogfights? This feature-length film written by Saunders and directed by Mandie Fletcher updates the characters but makes their narcissism and faux-sophistication relevant to today’s pop culture. One would think that time has caught up with youth-obsessed Edina and sharp-tongued Patsy, that several celebrities in politics and entertainment have made their unfiltered egotism and empty-headedness passé. But this isn’t the case: there’s still a lot of guilty pleasure to be had watching the Ab Fab duo bumble about, insult everyone around them, try get-rich quick schemes, and annoy Patsy’s stodgy but far more mature daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha). Now in their sixties, Edina and Patsy should be past the stage of trying to regain their lost youth, but even their lowered economic status—Edina’s PR agency is crumbling—hasn’t taught them a thing. And that’s actually part of the charm of these BFFs. They’re not evil; they’re just not capable of feeling guilt. Having no conscience is secretly a superpower that many of us would like to have, and it’s fun (and still daring, even in this supposedly enlightened age) to watch two women go for the gusto. Vitriolic internet reaction to the announcement of an all-female Ghostbusters reboot suggests that for many moviegoers, there’s certain kinds of fun that women aren’t allowed to have onscreen. Those same critics would probably faint at the shenanigans of Edina and Patsy. The movie smartly replicates what made the television program so popular: it doesn’t soften or apologize for its heroines—it just wants to make viewers laugh. The plot is thin: Edina tries to make money first by publishing her memoirs (which get botched in transcription by addle-brained secretary Jane Horrocks), then by pursuing supermodel Kate Moss as a client, resulting in an unfortunate incident at a fashion event. Dodging criminal charges, Edina and Patsy go on the lam in the south of France with a stolen credit card. There’s plenty of misbehavior and silliness, and no moral lessons are learned. There are goofy cameos by Jon Hamm (who apparently had a devastating affair with Patsy), Rebel Wilson, Perez Hilton, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Joan Collins, Barry Humphries (as alter ego Dame Edna), and one of the Spice Girls—plus dozens of other faces familiar from the covers of Us Weekly and People. The deliberate tackiness provides its own kind of humor—in truth, this movie is a throwback not just to the early ‘90s but to even older film comedy: if Bob Hope and Bing Crosby had been female, this could be an R-rated “Road” movie—the kind of film that floats by on the charisma and chemistry of its stars, getting by with a minimal of plot. Despite the raunchy humor, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (like its heroines) is weirdly innocent and rather endearing. It’s also a sneaky satire of the consumerism its protagonists seem to be selling. Unlike the recent film version of Entourage, there’s no question that we’re meant to be appalled (and laugh at) the excesses of the lead characters. Without any overt moralizing, Ab Fab shows just how shallow this non-stop pursuit of youth and money and sex really is. But it’s a fun ride, and what fans of the TV show and viewers who have never seen a single episode can equally appreciate is the terrific comic characterizations of Saunders and Lumley. They’re a unique creation, a fascinating duo who live out our secret egotistical fantasies—and then hilariously screw them up. Coming just as we start to look toward the cooler days of autumn, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie gives audiences one final blast of nostalgic summer fun.
(Rated R for profanity and drug use.)
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