Sunday, 11 December 2016

Movie Review: Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016)



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The current trend in British cinema that seems to crop up every year is adapting popular British TV comedies to the big screen. From Mrs. Brown’s Boys to The Inbetweeners, even just to characters from those shows like Keith Lemon, this seems to be the big predictable avenue for the cinematic output of the UK. It is also, to no surprise of anyone who has seen the majority of these films, a trend that yields little if any genuinely entertaining work. Okay, the first Inbetweeners movie was decent, but otherwise it’s a pretty basic guarantee for dirt-under-the-bottom-of-the-barrel crap in cinemas, or DVD if you’re even that fortunate. So, with that in mind, it’s really worrying that the second film I’ll be covering today is an adaptation of a series that is very close to my childhood. I grew up watching Absolutely Fabulous on DVD with my mother and, if given the opportunity, I would lead a pub sing-a-long of This Wheel’s On Fire at the drop of a hat. Is this going to be another piece of dreck, or will I be so lucky as to find the one recent British TV adaptation that doesn’t suck? This is Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.


The plot: Failing P.R. to the stars Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and her best friend fashion designer Patsy (Joanna Lumley), after an unfortunate accident while trying to get her to sign on with Eddy’s P.R. firm, accidentally knock Kate Moss into the Thames, where she purportedly drowns. Needing a quick getaway from the thousands who want retribution for her death, Eddy and Patsy flee Britain to find a means, any means, to buy their way out of this mess.

I haven’t seen the 20th Anniversary specials as of writing this review, so I’m going strictly on the over-a-decade long gap between the last official season of the show and this film. Considering that, it’s quite remarkable how well the characters of old have held up after all this time. Saunders, going solo on the writing front, is as haplessly egocentric as always, Lumley doubly so with an added half of age denialism, and they are still a solid comedic duo. Their banter and misadventures are still fun and show a real example of how to age gracefully while simultaneously showing two characters who abjectly refuse to do so. Julia Sawalha as Eddy’s daughter still has that weird thing where she seemingly hasn’t aged a second since the series first started, making the subplot between her and her own daughter played by Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness a bit difficult to comprehend, but her seething discontent for her mother is very much intact, making for some nice family dysfunction shenanigans. Beyond that and a couple other series regulars, and a slew of celebrity cameos, we have actors like Barry Humphries, Celia Imrie and Mark Gatiss doing well at adding to the overall tapestry. Oh, and Rebel Wilson is in it, and even considering her track record, this is probably her most pointless role yet. Yes, even more so than her appearance in Night At The Museum 3.

Audiences outside of the UK have a rather stereotypical impression of British comedy as this very high-class affair that hipsters will often proclaim as vastly superior to American comedy. However, at least in recent years, that is actually very far from the truth. Nowadays, most British comedies manage to out-do the Americans in terms of gross-out, edgelord humour. And honestly, nowhere is that better exemplified than in the recent British TV adaptations. I mean, it only takes one look at Keith Lemon’s pixelated cock to know that these aren’t exactly the most restrained comedians on Earth. However, this film is a marked departure from that ilk, which makes sense considering Ab Fab was never about that kind of humour anyway (or, at least, never to that extent). There’s the odd bit of transsexual humour, and even then it’s pretty toned down, but otherwise this is actually rather clean… and quite frankly, it makes for a much more pleasant watch. We still have the family dysfunction, which comes across as pretty mature in the most clinical sense of the term because of how deep-seated and real it can get, we still have the copious alcohol and drug use, but it’s still within the respectable limits that the show originally set up for itself. Now, don’t misunderstand me here: Just because it’s pleasant doesn’t necessarily that it’s funny. As much as this film’s use of the series’ brand of humour is pretty spot on, I can’t help but feel like this just doesn’t feel right without a laugh track. Don’t get me wrong, the humour here isn’t exactly so subtle as to need a laugh track to pick out the actual jokes; it’s just that there is something noticeably missing from the equation.

Ab Fab’s greatest strength as a comedic series, aside from being another concrete example on how to make smart comedy about dumb people, was how it was essentially a pantomime of the fashion and celebrity industries. Through a vantage point within the arena of how celebs are marketed, that being P.R., it turned what floods the tabloids every day into a big painted target. And here, that is brought out even further as the notions concerning celebrities and how we really don’t need to care so much about what they’re doing are even more overt, yet equally fleshed-out, than ever. In fact, because of that story feature, it actually makes the anonymity of the celebs that are paraded in front of the camera kind of work; if you don’t recognize them, then these are just people that celebrity culture deems important enough to recognizable.

All in all, even with how underwhelming it is as an overall film, I can’t help but at least give this film credit for being as different as it is from the larger crop of British TV adaptations. It may be over-the-top but only in tone, not in explicitness, which makes it a far better choice than a lot of others out there. The acting is good, the direction actually seems to take advantage of the higher budget to make it look like a film meant to be seen in cinemas and the writing takes the original series’ sneering eye for celebrity culture and reasonably amplifies it to create this big pantomime concerning how inordinately fascinated we are with how these people live. It’s better than The Founder, as there is no mishandled tonal stances to muddle up what works about this film. However, because this film simply confirms that the series is still good as it was before, it falls short of Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, a film so good as to redeem several years of wrong-headed narrative decision and actually make me want to get back into the games again.

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