Thursday, 1 December 2016

Absolutely Fabulous (2016)

Reels on fire...

Absolutely Fabulous (1990-2004) hit TV screens in an era where neanderthals were still arguing that
women can't be funny, and it therefore had a lot to prove. The film arrived in an era where that stereotype on both big and small screen has beeb obliterated. Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley make it clear early on that they are out to make fun of themselves, and not just others as the style of modern comedy has become. nothing is off limits, how they have aged, how the world has changed, and this is where some of the best comedy comes. Their lack of understanding of the world is at times amazing, with Patsy referring to cash as 'hand money' being my favourite gag. I got the feeling early on that Ab Fab was two decades before its time, and the film is right where it needed to be given that we now live in the media obsessed celebrity culture. However the more I watched, I realised that the comedy doesn't work anymore given that we are too close to the world the series was parodying in the 1990's. Sadly, we have become the joke.

Being a film set in the world of PR and celebrity there are cameos aplenty which range from fantastic to dire. Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones) looking glamorous for a change was brilliant, while I could have done without Richard Arnold and Christine Bleakley (who is bizarrely only shot from the side for some reason). That guy from the X Factor who plays an air steward (appropriately) can fuck off too. There is no doubt however that they deserve a place in this film given that it takes a sledgehammer to gaudy celebrity culture at some points and lusts for it at others. Jon Hamm also puts in a great but too brief comic performance, and this all serves to make series mainstays Lulu and Emma Bunton come across as jarring anachronisms. While their inclusion is faithful to the original I found it hard to believe that they exist in this world anymore. So many cameos are included that by the end of the film they become numbing. From genuinely funny moments to "oh yeah its him/her". Crucially the biggest anachronism is Kate Moss, who is an important part of the plot.

Much like Brienne's appearance I greatly appreciated the cameo by Rebel Wilson, who begged for a role in the film and ad-libbed her greatest line. As a air hostess she refers to herself as the 'designated do noting bitch', which is a glorious reference to MMA great Ronda Rousey's coined term. Only afterwards I realised that this is the most topical joke in the film and it is already dated by over a year. When asked about this ad lib Saunders exclaimed "I don't care as long as its funny", which suggests she missed the poignancy and cultural relevance of this line. In the long run this doesn't really matter because Jennifer Saunders knows whats funny and kept it in, but I still find her dismissiveness concerning. Despite this Saunders shows a solid understanding of the modern world with subtle gags you could miss is you blinked, like the hash tag #IsKateDead? featuring on BBC News while exposition is being blurted out by a newsreader. Reaction clips are highlighted by a brief Jeremy Paxman cameo who asks "is there really nothing else happening in the world?" Quickly followed by some randomer claiming that "fashion is dead." This, in a nutshell, is the tone of the film. It knows that its subject matter is superficial, and that is its saving grace.

Underneath the plot of the TV original is an undercurrent of sympathy towards Eddies daughter Saffy. This time it is centered around Saffys daughter Lola despite a frightening lack of understanding of how to use the younger character. We are told she is 13 but she is shown to know how to drive a car. Lola 'has money' but only when the plot necessitates it. Lola is sometimes interesting but mostly just there because of the time lapse from the series means she has to be, and her final appearence is a throwaway gag just to make her prescent in the final scenes. The film loses sight of the joke of the original, that Saffy was in the Mother role as Edina was the child. If we are to translate that into the film, Saffy has grown to be a pretty neglectful and distant parent and Edina has finally been able to run amok. The id has finally prevailed over the ego, and it makes for a gaudy film.

One genuine positive I can say is that the film is at least faithful to its portrayal of Eddie and Patsy, its two central characters. Ab Fab was always about ageing disgracefully, but Jennifer Saunders (age 58) and Joanna Lumley (age 70) manage to continue this into the film with the same style and attitude of the original series. Numerous references are made to the two being too old for the lifestyle they are trying to maintain, though Eddie is noted as being aged 60, which I found telling about Saunders motivations. While I'm praising performances June Whitfield (age 91 for fairness' sake), reprisises her role as Edinas clueless mother very well.

In my research for this film I realised that Absolutely Fabulous is as old as I am, and although I struggle with pop culture I have aged better. That is a sad inditement on this film. I can't help but feel that if this exact film had been made 15 years ago (and it could have been if you switched a few of the topical cameos) it would have been received a thousand times better and could have been considered the British Zoolander. Sadly it will likely be more of a British Zoolander 2, dated and irrelevant. At times I felt like I was watching a film made in 2001, which is worrying given that I recently watched Dad's Army (2016), set in 1944, which felt more of our time than Ab Fab. There were things I enjoyed though such as Robert Webb as Saffys mild mannered policeman partner, but part of me thinks that is because I haven't seen him in a film since Confetti (2006) and The Magicians (2007), and they were both train wrecks.

For honesty's sake I should note that it took me numerous seatings to get through this film which is a bad sign in itself. I tried really hard to like this film, but in the end its plot was just too awkward despite fine acting from all and a heavy dose of fan service and nostalgia. The BBC's recent sitcom modernisations of Keeping Up Appearances, Porridge and Are You Being Served among others have shown that some are going find it harder to rekindle the magic than others. Some were complete duds while other offered something different and interesting to the old formula. Absolutely Fabulous was always going to be a tough property to make into a film, and this attempt tried admirably and failed fabulously, sweetie darling.

No comments:

Post a Comment