For as “frivolous” as Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is being billed, there is an underlying profundity to the art and grotesque beauty of selfishness displayed with such gusto by now sixty-somethings Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and Pasty Stone (Joanna Lumley).
When Absolutely Fabulous first aired on BBC2 (it had to establish itself before making the cut for BBC One) back in 1992, co-creator Jennifer Saunders had yet to cultivate the fine-tuned tongue-in-cheek voice that audiences would come to fall more securely in love with by the third series that ended in 1995. The Pet Shop Boys making a song of the same name inspired by it in 1994 is possibly the strongest testament to that. And then, of course, because of the relatability and glorious self-involvement of these two larger-than-life characters, Saunders resuscitated the show several times subsequently, including the two specials in 1996 and a fourth and fifth series that began in 2001.
And so, with this constant revisiting, some might wonder, what could Saunders possibly have left to say about one of the most epically co-dependent friendships in pop culture history? Well, the answer is, honestly: nothing she hasn’t said before. Yet, at the same time, watching Edina and Patsy persist in their antics in this rather unprecedented age bracket (at least when it comes to what “Hollywood” will allow with regard to the women they prefer to splash across the screen) is part of the novelty–not to mention a preview of how the millennial generation will age.
Tired of being what amounts to the laughing stock of the PR world because her sole clients consist of a “boutique” vodka brand, Lulu and Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton, Edina seizes a tip from Patsy about Kate Moss looking for new representation. Unfortunately, Edina’s arch nemesis (or at least one of them), Claudia Bing (Celia Imrie), overhears this highly valuable piece of intelligence as well. The result is, of course, the two vying for her affections at a fashion party celebrating fictional designer Huki Muki (Janette Tough). To give herself a competitive edge, however, Edina enlists the help of her granddaughter, Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness), banking on her half-black background and youth to allure Kate’s interest. The plan is for Lola to start chatting her up and then summon Edina over so as to assure that the latter is “cool.” Meanwhile, Patsy “roll[s] away the Hamm” a.k.a. Jon Hamm from his conversation with Kate by reminding him that she’s the one he lost her virginity to at fifteen back in New York.
With Kate left sitting on the balcony unattended, Lola begins talking to her, encouraged by Edina from afar to, yes, take the cigarette she offers. Just as Edina is about to hone in, Claudia, too, makes a beeline for the balcony, with the rush prompting Edina to accidentally bump into Kate a little too roughly so that she topples right off into the Thames.
The subsequent backlash against Edina and Patsy (guilty by association) not only results in one of the best Twitter hashtags of all time, #IsKateDead?, but also the duo’s need to escape the country (particularly after they lose Bubble [Jane Horrocks] in the Thames as well) in pursuit of the only person they can think of with money, Charlie (Barry Humphries), a porn king who lives in Cannes with all the other wealthy Europeans. Convinced that once they can get their hands on some liquid assets, they’ll be free from the comeuppance that awaits them if they stay in London, they beg Lola to accompany them so they can use her credit card to get there.
Eddie’s daughter, Saffy (Julia Sawalha), who has divorced from her African husband and is now dating a police chief named Nick (Peep Show‘s Robert Webb), has remained just as set in her ways as her mother, a woman whose behavior she’s always scorned. Ironically, Saffy’s relationship with her own daughter, Lola, is a mirror of the one she has with Edina, and results in her cautioning to Lola, “Don’t do things just to upset your mother, you’ll end up ruining your life.” But it is precisely because of this that Lola agrees to help her grandma get to Cannes.
With everyone on Eddie and Patsy’s tail, and no sign of Kate to be had, their hopes of financial freedom are dashed when Charlie’s “love” for Patsy seems to have disintegrated in the wake of all the zygote women available to him. It is due to this setback that Edina suggests Patsy go for a different person and gender altogether, Lubliana (Marcia Warren), the richest woman in the world–and older than water, to boot.
By the simple and campy donning of a mustache, “Pat” Stone worms her way into a marriage with Lubliana. Subsequently, Patsy assures Edina that there’s no reason to ever return to London as it’s filled with nothing but “parasites, tics and danglers.” Edina, not wholly convinced, still has trouble letting go of fantasies of her fabulous life representing Kate Moss and at last being revered by the fashion world of London. As she later bemoans to Saffy while sinking in a miniature truck with Patsy in a whirlpool outside of Bubble’s posh Cannes property (“I’ve been overpaying myself for years,” she explains to Lulu), “All I ever wanted was to not be hated and old and fat and disgusting.” It is precisely this fear that colors so much of what drives millennials to do half of the vacuous things they do (running the gamut of buying patterns to the documentation of pretty much every facet of life on every social media platform).
But AbFab wouldn’t be AbFab if it delved too deeply into heartfelt or meaningful exchanges, hence the brevity of Edina’s apology to Saffy for not loving her as she needed or wanted to be over the years. Once she finds out Kate is alive and well and partying with Jean-Paul Gaultier in Cannes, she immediately reverts back to her standard behavior. What it all boils down to for Edina is something Patsy asserts during their on the lam phase: “Living well is the best revenge.” And by the time, Edina makes it back to London, that’s exactly what she’s managed to show everyone she’s capable of doing.
The randomness and absurdity of certain plot points (like Saffy searching so desperately for Lola, only to find her and tell Baby Spice to keep watching over her) are in keeping with the no fucks given attitude of the entire AbFab universe, now an offshoot of the millennial one.
Thus, it’s only logical to end the film on a Some Like It Hot-esque note, with Patsy confessing to Lubliana, “I’m not a man,” to which she returns nonchalantly, “I’m not a woman.” With that, the film also manages to address in one fell swoop the genderless nature of living in the current epoch.