Dear Early 1990s,
There was a time, in the early aughts, when Di and I worked together at a video store almost every day. And we watched a lot of Ab Fab. It would remind us both of your heady days: when terrorists were Germans played by Alan Rickman, tall buildings exploding were considered cool (not PTSD triggers) and broad caricatures of gay men, minorities and the elderly and infirm were just fine, if done with one’s tongue sufficiently embedded in one’s cheek.
But man, that was then. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie feels like a remake of Gilligan’s Island made 20 years after the fact—and without the irony. There is nothing about this film that manages to successfully remodel what made Ab Fab so delightful: two utterly unrepentantly selfish women, with almost no redeeming features, ingesting every legal and illegal substance known to man or woman. There really was no message, it was just this rolling train wreck populated by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, and the whole joy was watching that very train wreck end exactly where it was aimed from the giddyup.
But for more reasons than I can fit in this space the film can’t reproduce that particular point in time and these characters, Patsy and Edina, can’t evolve without distorting them out of all recognition. The things that made them funny: their casual and unrepentant racism, the class snobbishness, their happy immersion in the worst sort of consumerism and their complete lack of interest in the welfare of Edina’s child (and in this film Edina’s grandchild—a character that is a perfect example of the kind of egregious tone deafness this film too often indulges) just aren’t funny anymore. This isn’t because either women is any less sharp or capable but what their characters are, at their core, is now so unpalatable that it has moved from being outrageous to simply unacceptable.
Structurally Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie also suffers from what any number of television show/feature film conversions suffer from—it feels like a single half hour episode stretched out over 90 minutes. Every scene is more or less a couple of jokes attached to whatever the particular premise for that sequence is, without any real through line, so instead of a feature length film it feels like a clip show of the more mediocre episodes. The material and pacing are stretched so thin that the thing that made Ab Fab so special—this inevitable, meteoric rush to disaster—is diluted to the point where it feels plodding.
I tend to think the only way this film could have worked is if they had played it utterly straight and gone super dark. Because for better or worse, the subjective distance between your blinkered innocence and the world today is far more than just a couple of decades. So these people whom we could once laugh at from a comfortable distance have become our modern day boogey(wo)men—not laughable, but simply targets of derision and contempt.
Some things are of their time and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is definitely an artifact that only really makes sense when wrapped in your warm, slightly ignorant, embrace.