Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
It’s finally here: “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie,” the long-awaited follow-up to the beloved British comedy of the same name. Originally created by comedy duo Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, “AbFab” (as it’s colloquially known) has had an unusually long run, starting in 1992 and airing intermittently with seasons, specials and revivals until 2012. Directed by Mandie Fletcher and written by Saunders, the “AbFab” movie is clearly a reunion based on love — love between the cast, love of the characters, and most of all, love of the fans who’ve followed Eddie and Patsy’s crazy antics for almost 30 years.
For those new to the series, “AbFab” follows aging PR agent Edina “Eddie” Monsoon (Saunders) and her sex-crazed, apparently immortal best friend Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) as they drink champagne, pop pills and stumble their way through the ever-changing world of fashion. Along for the ride is Eddie’s spacey personal assistant, Bubble (Jane Horrocks); her cynical, no-nonsense daughter, Saffy (Julia Sawalha); and her dotty mother, Gran (June Whitfield). The entire, original and all-female cast returns for the movie, along with a cadre of recurring guest stars from the show, countless cameos from the fashion world and Saffy’s teenage daughter, Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness).
A familiar plot joins the familiar faces: Eddie, desperate to stay hip (and rich), needs a win for her PR career and decides to pursue Kate Moss (playing herself) as a client at a party Patsy’s magazine is throwing. Her pursuit quickly goes from overeager to criminal when Eddie accidentally knocks Moss into the Thames and becomes a pariah in the fashion world. (“Do you know what ‘pariah’ means?” Saffy asks later. “Yes,” Eddie replies sadly. “A fish.”) While the police search for Kate’s body, Eddie and Patsy abscond to Cannes with Lola and her father’s credit cards to escape the lowly, money-less hell their lives have become.
Unsurprisingly, the film feels like an extended episode of the show, with all its humor and relentlessness in showing how truly terrible Eddie and Patsy are. They’re awful people, and have been awful since that first episode when Eddie railed against Saffy for accusing her of falling off the wagon (she was never even close to the wagon), and Patsy told Eddie that she had Saffy to blame for becoming fat. Still, despite being awful, one can’t help but love them for it, if only because they’re such buffoons. The film does a good job of bringing that feeling back. It helps that there are enough throwbacks to make fans of the show smile — with my favorite being the return of Patsy’s greatest insult, “bitch troll from hell!” — without making newcomers feel totally alienated.
There’s also a wonderful mixed bag of cameos, from classics of the show (Dawn French, Stella McCartney, former Spice Girl Emma Bunton) to recognizably modern ones (Jon Hamm, Gwendoline Christie, Rebel Wilson). Honestly, the only cameo missing here is Idris Elba, who — trivia! — got his third on-screen credit in 1995 when he appeared as a male prostitute in season three. Fans of “Glee” will be happy to see Chris Colfer in a decidedly less saccharine role as Eddie’s catty stylist who initially hates buzzkill Saffy but eventually comes to see why she is the way she is. His is a rather brilliant addition to the cast, as Colfer’s character helps point to something that has always been true in Eddie’s frenetic world: Saffy is her emotional anchor, as much as she hates to admit it. Longtime fans will also be glad to see that, finally, Saffy gets some recognition for all her long years of putting up with her irresponsible mother.
Still, if the movie suffers from anything, it’s a particularly dated style of comedy. The best of “AbFab’s” humor comes from Eddie’s self-absorption and Patsy’s ability to withstand literally anything she puts into her body, but too often their barbs come out too sharp and punch too far down. The most cringeworthy jokes in this film are all aimed at transgender people, with similar ones about race following close behind. This isn’t much of a surprise considering such jokes have long been a part of “AbFab,” mostly to show how out of touch Eddie is. It’s all very ’90s in tone and British in style, so your mileage may vary as to the offense these jokes cause. But like a lot of ’90s comedy, it’s pretty embarrassing to look back on and uncomfortable to see recycled in 2016.
Despite its comedic missteps, there’s a lot to love in “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.” Fans of the show will undoubtedly get the most of out of it, but anyone who enjoys a good bit of slapstick paired with a needle full of satire to the face will get a kick out of this movie, too.