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Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

Eddie and Patsy are back, with decidedly mixed results.
By Tom Glasson
August 03, 2016
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By Tom Glasson
August 03, 2016
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Looking back on the last 24 years, the fashion world really hasn't changed all that much. Outfits are still outrageous, trends are as cyclical as the tides, and the pomp and puffery of the PR machine is as condescending and self-aggrandising as ever. In that sense, fashion's immutability makes it just as ripe for parody now as it was back in 1992, when Absolutely Fabulous first aired on the BBC. On the other hand, that the fashion world really hasn't changed all that much means that any parody done now risks feeling banal and familiar. Hence, the challenge of breathing new life into something old proves just as relevant for any pastiche as it does for the fashion world itself. It's here that we find ourselves presented with Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.

The notoriously precarious production road of TV adaptations has seen a lot of traffic of late. In just the past few years, programs that have graduated to the big screen include The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, Entourage, The Equaliser, GI Joe and The Man From U.N.C.L.E, plus a whole bunch of Mission Impossibles and Star Treks as well as a Baywatch film currently in post-production. More often than not these films fall short of the mark, tending to feel like two and a half episodes stuck together, or one longer episode struggling to justify its expanded scope and budget. The best are more like reinterpretations, taking the idea of the TV series and using that as the base for an entirely new adventure (21 Jump Street and Star Trek: Into Darkness being the best of the recent bunch).

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie attempts to follow that trend, throwing its stars Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) back into the limelight of the fashion PR milieu. The theme of the movie, appropriately, is relevance, with its two leads fighting to stay part of the conversation in a world that has all but left them behind. Physically that means morning rituals of self-applied botox, suction tubes and foetus-blood facial transfusions, while professionally it means trying to land a client who still means something to people (sorry Lulu). The solution presents itself in the form of fashion icon Kate Moss (who cameos), but when an attempt to lure her business ends in disaster, Eddie and Patsy find themselves pariahs of the fashion world and fugitives from the law.

Does it all come together as a film? In parts, perhaps, but overall the feeling is one of overreach and superfluity. If anything, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is more like a reunion episode than a film, bouncing from scene to scene with barely a plot in sight, even fewer laughs, and a series of fleeting walk-ons from characters you kind of, sort of, maybe remember from back when you watched the show. Barbs about gender reassignment and mixed-race families fizzle by without any real substance, and the drunken stumbling/falling routine that defined so much of the original series now seems sadder than it does funny. That's all part of the point, of course, that the desire for the party to go on forever will, over time, only serve to make fools of its disciples. But the delivery fails to resonate for much of the film's first hour.

Where the film does shine is when it returns to its absolute core: pushing in tight on intimate, whispered conversations between its two outstanding leads as they heap red-hot private vitriol on everyone else in the room. Eddie's scatterbrained solipsism and Patsy's unwavering sex-bomb confidence are as funny now as they were two decades ago – making the film's insistent focus on slapstick and buffoonery all the more frustrating.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie opened number two at the UK Box Office, where it will surely find its homegrown audience more than dutiful to the cause. Even so, it's hard to see this film resonating with either international audiences or moviegoers under the age of 40. When Saunders declared an end to the original TV series after just three short seasons, she did so proudly declaring that it was better to go out on top rather than to overstay your welcome until you're politely asked to leave. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie might well have heeded such wisdom.

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