Director: Mandie Fletcher
Starring: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley
It's been a little over 20 years since Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone first sweetie, darling-ed their way into hearts and pop culture in Absolutely Fabulous and, if anything, they are only more suited to the world today than they were to the world in 1992. With the rise of the internet and social media, culture has only grown more shallow, more celebrity-obsessed, and more youth-obsessed than it was 20 years ago, making it the ideal place for Eddie and Patsy. But Absolutely Fabulous the TV series was a half-hour affair that ran for 39 episodes off and on from 1992 to 2012. The stakes were never high and the ambition level was low. That was fine for a half-hour comedy, but it's pretty thin stuff for a feature length movie. Don't get me wrong: individual bits and pieces of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie are great, but the premise of the series really can't sustain 91 minutes.
The Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) of 2016 are in a bad way. Edina's PR company is floundering and, having sunk all her money (but mostly money that wasn't actually hers) into building an addition onto her house, she's out of money. Her hopes for financial rescue by way of publishing her autobiography come to naught when she learns that what she dictated to her assistant, Bubble (Jane Horrocks), has been transcribed as pages of "blah blah blah." She's desperate but sees a light at the end of the tunnel with Patsy learns that Kate Moss has just fired her PR agent and is looking for new representation. Edina comes up with a plan to get to Moss at an event for designer Huki Muki, using her granddaughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness), to break the ice for her. However, when Edina's rival, Claudia (Celia Imrie), makes a move to pitch her services to Moss, Edina panics and accidentally knocks Moss off of a balcony and into the Thames to her presumed death.
As news of Moss' death spreads, the public turns on Edina and the police ponder whether to bring manslaughter charges. So, thinking that there's nothing left for them in London, Edina and Patsy come up with a plan to escape to Cannes, where Edina's mother (June Whitfield) is on holiday and where Patsy intends to track down a long-ago lover in order to marry him and bankroll her and Edina's future. However, without the cash to make the trip, they talk Lola into coming along so that they can use the credit card her father has given her in order to fund their plan, which in turn puts Edina's daughter, Saffron (Julia Sawalha), hot on their trail so that she can retrieve her daughter before her mother has a chance to corrupt her. When Patsy's plan to marry her former beau falls through, she and Edina are left scrambling for a new scheme and once they're spotted in Cannes, the authorities begin to close in, intending to bring them back to England to face justice.
Written by Jennifer Saunders (who, to my mind, is one of the funniest and smartest writers out there, particularly in collaboration with Dawn French), Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie has moments that are genuinely very funny and incisive. The whole fallout from Kate Moss' death is meant to be ridiculous, but the very public and performative kind of mourning that the film depicts is probably pretty close to how something like that would actually play out in real life, except that the film misses the opportunity to show people taking selfies of themselves weeping at Moss' pop-up memorial along the Thames, which is something that would surely happen in staggering numbers and which I suppose means that our culture has now so thoroughly embraced narcissism that it has outpaced the story of two women who are meant to demonstrate narcissism at its most extreme. There's also something sad and true about what happens once Edina and Patsy get to Cannes and crash a party where they expect to find Patsy's ex, discovering Edina's mother and all the other women "of a certain age" sequestered to their own party while all the men of a similar age enjoy their own party with women young enough to be their granddaughters. While the way that Edina desperately tries to cling to youth has always been played for laughs, her reasons for doing so have never been clearer. She doesn't want to be swept off to the side and ignored; she wants to matter and to matter, as a woman, means to be young.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie also features some fairly brilliant moments of physical comedy, including a scene in which Edina, follower of trends so ridiculous they can't exist in real life (until they do) and always looking for ways to lose weight while expending the bare minimum of effort to do so, is seen using an exercise bicycle under water in her pool while decked out in a snorkel so that she can still breathe. The problem with the movie is that it's only funny in bits and pieces with long stretches in between that don't amount to much. There's just not enough story here to sustain such a long running time and stuffing the film with cameos (I'm pretty sure there are at least twice as many celebrity cameos than there are actual cast members) doesn't do much to distract from that. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is a film for diehard fans only.