My sole experience with the ’90s BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous is via ads that used to run for it on Comedy Central in my middle school days. Without those 30-second clips (which weren’t enough to entice me into actually watching an episode of the show), my knowledge of Absolutely Fabulous would be nil. So, to say I’m amazed that, in 2016, there’s a film version of the show is an understatement. At the same time, not being a part of the show’s cult following (at least here in the U.S.) means that I’m obviously not the target audience for this movie.
With that out of the way, after sitting through 90 minutes of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, I think my familiarity with the show will remain at its current level. There’s a fundamental problem with many (if not most) cinematic adaptations of TV shows: What works within a 20-minute span rarely translates when stretched out to a feature length. This is the most slack I am willing to cut Absolutely Fabulous, a film that amounts to a grating, meandering journey into the lives of a couple of truly dimwitted boobs.
The film is about foundering public relations hack Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and her best friend and fashion journalist Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), two women who are constantly sedated to the world thanks to some variation of mind-altering substances. Both are struggling with aging and their oncoming irrelevance, though neither has the self-awareness to understand this. In a last-ditch effort to maintain her extravagant lifestyle, Edina attempts to become Kate Moss’ PR agent, only to accidentally knock the model into the River Thames, presumably murdering her.
It’s here that the plot finally kicks in (mind you, this is about a quarter of the way into the film), allowing Edina and Patsy to get into some mild high jinks and generally embarrass themselves while being too vapid to realize it. They’re selfish and uncouth and wholly unlikable, which isn’t necessarily the death knell for a film. But Absolutely Fabulous lacks anything aesthetically pleasing (the movie is shot like a slick, stylistically void sitcom) to make up for its general banality.
Of course, the film doesn’t find itself this pointless, propping itself up as a satire on the shallowness of PR, high fashion and the rich. But Absolutely Fabulous isn’t really saying anything, instead taking cheap, simple shots at modernity with throwaway gags about selfie sticks and Tinder. There’s no depth to the humor here, just references to disposable pop culture touchstones (and endless celebrity cameos) and bouts of general rudeness. Even when the film gets things right (OK, so Stella McCartney throwing a brick through Edina’s window is funny for some reason), it’s fleeting. Longtime fans of the show will likely find more to recommend here. Otherwise, be wary. Rated R for language, including sexual references, and some drug use.