It’s hard to know if Absolutely Fabulous, as a show, has stood the test of time, or if it never actually fit in anywhere in the first place. It’s a show about women (and successful, entrepreneurial women, at that), about frivolity, and narcissism. It glamorizes alcoholism, cocaine, and emotionally abusive parenting. It has the same dry, harsh criticism of its own characters as Arrested Development, but without ever actually telegraphing the hopefully clear fact that it knows we’re disapproving. Ab Fab is also a show that transcended its intended audience, opening it up to criticism it maybe never anticipated. I am not British. I was not of an age to appreciate the show when it was first on. I tried to appreciate it when it came to Comedy Central in my early teens, but given my age then, I don’t think I’d ever really seen the show for what it was until my very recent rewatch, specifically in preparation for this movie.
And still, given all that, the movie is exactly what it should be. Namely, it’s an extended episode, and a perfect catch-up with these characters. It doesn’t fall victim to the Veronica Mars Movie Syndrome of obvious fan-pandering, nor the incessant Ghostbusters callback and cameo issues (which some of you hated, and some loved). But then, just like the original series, not all of it lands fully with a modern audience.
In the movie revival, we follow Edina and Patsy (Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, of course) as they struggle to stay relevant. Edina is a publicist in a world where not only she, but no one seems to know what a publicist does. She doesn’t get Twitter, or the internet, or anything really, as evidenced by her assistant (still Bubble!) wearing an outfit covered in inflatable hashtag signs. So instead she focuses everything on the one person she thinks she understand: Kate Moss. Kate Moss is so utterly ’90s, and so irrelevant in every arena except that of nostalgia, that there could be no better fit for the driving force of this movie. The thrust of the show is made cinematic when Eddie is accused of pushing Moss into the Thames, possibly murdering her. So our women are thrown into a caper, fleeing to France, kidnapping a grandchild, trying to find
love money, facing their own mortality and age, and indulging in an entirely bizarre Some Like It Hot story line with a fake mustache or two.
Ultimately, the things we love about these women are what works the very best in the movie, but they’re also what brings it down. Ab Fab was, in many ways, the precursor to South Park, putting out there the idea that if they can’t see beyond their own self-botoxed faces, they can’t care about anyone, and they also don’t care about everyone equally, therefore everything is fair game. And since we’re not meant to sympathize with them or their grossly narrow-minded opinions at all, we can just sit back and enjoy the awfulness. That’s the idea, and for the most part, it works. The outlier here (based both on my own super unapologetic SJW heart and pretty much every other audience member’s lack of enthusiasm in my particular screening) is a string of trans jokes so out of place, it’s hard to imagine anyone involved thinking they were anything close to resembling a good idea.
Unfortunately, that lack of awareness is enough to pull most of us out of the rest of the movie, and it’s what makes the film unable to surpass the status of As Good As the Show. That’s a great bar to meet, for sure, but no amount of updating or awesome contemporary cameos (of which there are many— Gwedoline Christie! Jon Hamm!) can make truly modern. The movie is a great time, but it is still of its time. So if that sounds like what you’re after, then enjoy, sweetie, darling. If you don’t already love the show, or if you’re happy to let it rest in its place in early ’90s history without a look back, then it’s an easy pass.