A producer once told me every film has a target audience. If you find something incoherent, crude, slapdash and dull, try to guess who might receive it warmly.
So I’m attempting to imagine the audience for “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.” The logical answer would be fans of the TV show that ran off and on from 1992 to 2012, but self-indulgent humor about self-indulgence plays better for 30 minutes than 90. (A fan at the film screening said he missed the TV laugh track. I see why, as it’s impossible to tell which parts are meant to be funny.)
Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley found a huge following among the gay community, which admired Edina and Patsy for their outspokenness and “damn-the-consequences” attitudes. Saunders, who wrote the film screenplay, pays tribute to those fans with an irrelevant scene in a drag club; Patsy’s character, often considered a demi-drag queen by gay fans, actually dons a mustache to woo a rich countess.
But those of us who aren’t converted may balk at the film directed by Mandie Fletcher, who directed the last three episodes of the show. Jokes don’t pay off at all or take so long to do so that they lose their snap. The few moments of attempted pathos don’t fit Edina’s character, and Patsy’s sex-crazed hijinks – funny in her late 40s, near the beginning of the show – look freakish and pathetic in a woman nearing 70.
The basic idea hasn’t changed: The spendthrifts, desperate for money and attention, concoct improbable schemes. Edina will publish a tell-all book about her life in public relations; Patsy will wed the man who directed her in porn films 40 years ago. (He’s played by Barry Humphries, so hideously made up that he looks like a pubic hair wig with teeth. His big line: “Steer clear of the jacuzzi. It’s a smoothie of old sperm.”)
Fletcher has cast regulars from the series: Julia Sawalha as Edina’s long-suffering daughter, June Whitfield as Edina’s dotty mom, Jane Horrocks as the bubble-headed assistant who infuriates Edina. The movie’s rife with cameos, a sure sign that filmmakers worry audiences will get bored: The parade includes Jon Hamm, Joan Collins, Humphries in drag as Dame Edna Everage, Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton, Stella McCartney, singer Lulu and Kate Moss, who’s treated as if she were as famous as Beyoncé. (In England, maybe she is.)
Funny movies have been made about selfish, cynical alcoholics, from W.C. Fields’ efforts to Peter O’Toole’s “My Favorite Year” to Dudley Moore’s “Arthur.” But those work because of witty writing (Fields), ruefulness for what might have been (O’Toole) or the possibility of redemption through love (Moore). Without those qualities, “AbFab” comes off as a tired cash cow that gives barely a drop of milk.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Cast: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks.
Writer: Jennifer Saunders.
Director: Mandie Fletcher.
Length: 90 minutes.
Rating: R (language including sexual references, and some drug use).