“Absolutely Fabulous” Is Mostly Absolutely Dreadful

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (Mandie Fletcher, 2016)

Did the world really need a movie adaptation of Jennifer Saunders’ long-running (though on-again, off-again) BBC series Absolutely Fabulous? Not only was the show sporadic in its broadcast history, but also in its delivery of wit. When Saunders and her partner in crime, Joanna Lumley, were funny, they were deliriously so, but whenever their comedic muse deserted them, their shenanigans could be painful to endure. Sadly, what comes to the screen today is of the latter variety: extremely short on humor, but long on suffering. Which is too bad, as there are a few truly inspired gags, including one involving a tiny car in the south of France that was delightful in the kind of manic way that only Saunders can manage. There’s also an earlier bit involving Jon Hamm (Mad Men) that is near pitch-perfect. If only the rest of the film were as good.

As always, Saunders (who recently did such a fine job as the voice of the Queen in Minions) plays Edina Monsoon, a British PR agent who, in spite of her alcohol and drug abuse and general inability to avoid disaster, is always just one step away from phenomenal success (or failure). Her best friend is fashion-magazine editor Patsy Stone (Lumley, DiCaprio’s aunt by marriage in The Wolf of Wall Street), whose vices make Edina look like a nun. Together, they gleefully court mayhem, much to the horror of Edina’s long-suffering (and very sober) daughter Saffron (way back when, the unruly daughter, Lydia, in the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice). This time around, Edina concocts a scheme to seduce fashion model Kate Moss away from her current representation, sure that this will put her back on top. Unfortunately, things go wrong (of course), and soon Edina and Patsy find themselves on the run, with Saffron’s teenage daughter along for the fun. Their misadventures take them to Cannes, where they wreak havoc on the French Riviera. And so on and so forth.

We all need silly comedies. And I did laugh in a few (choice) spots. But all too often I marveled at how unfunny it all was. Part of the problem is that veteran TV director Mandie Fletcher (My So Called Life Sentence) seems incapable of staging the scenes in a way that foregrounds the punchlines. All too often, the jokes get lost in the clutter of messy mise-en-scène. It also doesn’t help that the fashion world is already ridiculous enough that it belies parody. And though the movie briefly flirts with the more serious topic of how to handle the challenges of getting older, even those discussions fail to resonate, given that we flit from one frenetic episode to another. Perhaps what Patsy appears to be snorting was the actual drug of choice on set. All of which would be somewhat forgivable if we could laugh more than once every thirty minutes. All things must pass, and this Absolutely Fabulous is mostly just absolutely dreadful.

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