Two Drink Minimum is a comedy-based column by Vague Visages writer Jacob Oller.
Based on the long-running BBC sitcom on the same name, Absolutely Fabulous focuses on the party-hard, once-middle-aged duo of Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) whose jokes and attitudes seem preserved in a mixture of champagne, cigarette smoke and formaldehyde. Like a British I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Absolutely Fabulous is trashy obsession masquerading as satire, slobbering over the same puffy lifestyle that Zoolander burst into absurdity. It’s reality television without the poignancy.
Absolutely Fabulous might want the audience to think its main characters (the bad people who succeed in the end) are damnations of a lifestyle or an industry, but they exist as wish fulfillment in a deeply ironic way. It’s the backhanded celebration of anti-political correctness, the revelry of offensiveness. The audience members are meant to look at the other ladies in their knitting club seated next to them, slap their limp liver-spotted wrists and say “oh darling, they’re so BAD,” all while luxuriating in the antipathy.
The film’s attempts at comedy are mean and sloppy, with a slapstick attitude lacking any physical comedy and gross-out class without any provocative deviancy. Its two empty-headed posh princesses past their prime — Monsoon the PR diva and Stone the questionably employed cougar — seem to put their jobs aside in order to be full-time menaces to society. They binge on drugs and booze while trying to sleep with anything that moves, the stereotypical bad grannies whose lewd behavior has long been used as a cheap gag in the worst comedies. At least they don’t rap.
These two go on a strange quest involving the repercussions from the accidental manslaughter of model Kate Moss and the hunt for rich husbands to mooch off of. Most of the film takes place at parties, in mansions or in the ritziest parts of the French Riviera, but all the locations look like the set decorators from Saturday Night Live threw together a few scenes for some cut sketches. The lights are flat and the scenes shot so tightly that the glamour espoused from every corner of the film feels merely like leftover confetti after a hastily cleaned high school party. Meanwhile the elderly pair treats anyone with the misfortune to bump into them with sociopathic disdain and selfishness, something that could be funny if the film ever made their behavior a joke rather than a pointed fact (one that we’re asked to sympathize with, to add insult to injury). I haven’t seen the original show, but I can assure you that their humor has not aged well.
The plot is far too scattershot to follow, as subplots spring up with characters viewers are meant to recognize that last all of 30 seconds. Monsoon’s long-suffering daughter has a police officer boyfriend and a black daughter, neither of whom are more than a costume or a skin color to this film. Gay characters are gossiping hairdressers or peacocking drag queens, while the very idea of transexuality crops up over and over as a punchline. There’s a small Asian woman named Huki Muki played by a white comedian in yellowface — not even for the purposes of a joke, mind you, but presumably because those associated with the project only wanted to include their old, white British friends.
It’s a genderbent Adam Sandler movie with latent xenophobia that explains Brexit better than any press conference. It’s like hanging out with your spoiled great aunt at Thanksgiving for an hour until she gets plastered and ruins everything. She may think she’s funny, but she’s really just making everyone uncomfortable. If you were aching to relive such an experience in what can only be imagined as an empty movie theater, then Ab Fab is for you.
From AAA TV to Z-movies, Chicago-based critic Jacob Oller (@JacobOller) would like to bring the world together through entertainment, writing about it for publications like The Guardian, the Oklahoma Gazette, and his own blog. He’s a decent impressionist, semi-decent karaoke participant, and terrible dancer, although you’ll have to get a few drinks in him first.