‘ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS’ PROVES THERE ARE NO ABSOLUTES
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
Every once in a great while, a blind spot emerges in my seemingly all-encompassing gaze over the cultural landscape. I may not be able to watch every film released during the course of a year, settle in to binge every series, read every book (both fiction and non) written to tickle my sweet spot, or listen to all of the music that would make me a well-rounded critic of note, but I tend to believe that I keep myself in the know. My senses remain attuned to the presence of these cultural artifacts, storing them in my endless queue, for the day when I carve out a moment to consume them.
So, here comes “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie,” one of those titles that I have to admit caught me largely unaware because I thoroughly ignored the BBC series when it bleeped and blipped on the radar from 1992-2012. I registered the bare bones information about it – that it followed Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and her best friend Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), a pair of extremely self-involved divas binging away on the excesses of life in and around the fashion-oriented set. The barest contrast for their behavior reflected in the presence of Saffron (Julia Sawalha), Edina’s sensible daughter – an unlikely Stockholm syndrome survivor in the wake of the tempest of depravity that is Edina and Patsy.
I entered the movie – from director Mandie Fletcher (a television veteran who helmed three episodes of the series during the 2011-2012 season) with a script by Saunders, which hits the ground running with little or no need or desire to orient those unfamiliar with the characters or the world, and got my bearings on the fly. Edina and Patsy are exactly as advertised, a pair of loons wandering around in an impervious cocoon of privilege and only a trace instinctual notion that they need to do whatever is necessary to maintain their status because they would have no place or standing in the real world.
Edina is, by the standard of things, the more productive earner of the two and imbued with some glimmer of a sense that one of them needs to take action. Edina believes she can get an advance for a memoir on her life that will solve their immediate monetary concerns, but the dictated narrative features pages and pages of her adlibbed “blah, blah, blahing” her way through her escapades. When she hatches a plan to handle PR for Kate Moss, things go terribly awry when, at a party, she knocks Moss into the Thames River, leading the world to assume that she killed her.
The movie captures the pursuit of Edina and Patsy, as they attempt to stay ahead of a global manhunt and decide whether or not they would be better off trading it all away for new identities. “Absolutely Fabulous” traffics in the satirical realm recently explored in “Zoolander 2” and “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” but there is a willingness to venture down more crass alleys. And there is real joy in the execution here because Fletcher and Saunders don’t make such a show of drawing attention to the rude behavior. The absurdity of their actions is never the point, which means it feels like we are simply watching these two characters “being” themselves.
It was refreshing, to a point, shuffling alongside Edina and Patsy. Patsy, in particular, comes across like an older, far less self-aware version of Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) from “Sex and the City.” The beauty here is that Patsy truly doesn’t care about being liked by anyone other than Edina (who, in the end, is too dim to care) and proves willing to go to any length to live in her bubble of privilege (and there’s nothing that could ever happen that would make her even acknowledge it as “privilege” in the first place).
I always had problems with the central characters of “Sex and the City” because they were unlikable, yet deeply believed in their inherent goodness and relate-ability despite being far removed from the concerns of regular folks. They pretended to be like us (when, in fact, they tricked women everywhere into swallowing the fantasy that they could be like that fab foursome). In “Absolutely Fabulous,” Edina and Patsy never play such games. They are not absolutes or models for behavior, so we can sit back and accept the madcap hijinks as purely escapist fun. Rating: [R]; Grade: B