When fashion-designer Jean Paul Gaultier shows up on the waterfront and confronts a sopping wet fashion icon, the preview audience for the feature length movie version of the highly successful British television comedy Absolutely Fabulous erupts in applause and laughter – well, except for those of us who don’t recognize Jean Paul Gaultier and therefore miss the irony (if in fact there’s any irony there at all). Much of the film’s comedy works on the trust and hope that movie audiences will react hysterically to every recognizable characters and personality that pops up on screen like Kate Moss and Graham Norton and Lulu and…Kate Moss…well, that’s about it for me although there are, I must assume from the feverish reactions around me, plenty more notable celebs to exploit. Of course there are too the familiar characters straight out of the series and I do a little bit better with this having been a fan of the television show – a show that ran for 30 years which in British television years is an eternity. But here too the expectation for comedy is on the movie audience who fill in as a live-studio audience might during a regular taping of the series; applauding and cheering when their favourite character walks on screen.
I haven’t seen the show since the early 90s when it was considered essential viewing. I go to see Absolutely Fabulous, The Movie anticipating a wonderful reunion with Patsy (Joanna Lumley) and Edina (Jennifer Saunders) the past-their-prime somewhat delusional party ladies of the fashion industry who continue to live off an assumption of past glory. Back in the 90s Patsy and Edina had already overstayed their usefulness among highbrows of celebrity hob-nobbers and it was funny then – if not slightly cringe-worthy – to see them ignorantly stammering through fallen deals and sympathy meetings. What then to do 30 years later? Well, pretty much nothing has changed – which can be good because we want them to be just as they’ve always been – that’s the way we found them and that’s the way we love them. But at the same time shouldn’t there be more than just Patsy and Edina further past their prime?
The problem with the film is that Patsy and Edina get lost in a sea of self-serving, arrogant and delusional characters so that they’re shenanigans hardly seem out of the ordinary at all. There is just simply no one for them to play off of save for Edina’s still studious and politically conscience daughter Saffron who is now the mother of a 13 year-old daughter but still lives at home.
The movie is made for fans and there are plenty of them who are willing to laugh and howl at every irreverent fashion reference and to every nod towards the original series. Newbies to Edina and Patsy are likely to be a bit uncertain as what to make of these mid-life ravers who drink like college freshmen and snort coke like they’re applying blush. There are laughs for certain but just about enough to fill a 20 minute television show.