You know you’re in America when you’re the one laughing hysterically throughout the Absolutely Fabulous movie, and doing so in a largely silent theater. The charms of Edina and Patsy have never quite translated across the Atlantic — part of this is due to both the series and this long-awaited film draw heavily upon British cultural references, but also because the nature of Ab Fab‘s comedy is something that’s never been commonplace on this side of the Atlantic.
Even in relatively sanitized form — this film looks like everyone involved had a blast making it, and it’s more like a party to which everyone remotely associated with the TV show over the years was invited than anything else — Ab Fab is vicious. If American comedies are dark, they’re self-consciously so; shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia might as well have “OMG LOOK HOW DARK THIS IS” plastered across the top of the screen throughout the episode. The protagonists are antiheroines in that, taken objectively, they’re pretty awful people — Edina is a terrible mother, Patsy is basically terrible in every respect, and both of them are avatars of a subject that the show ridicules mercilessly, i.e. boomer consumerism of the variety that masks itself in wellness and yoga and all such things.
Taken in isolation, the interactions between Patsy and Edina’s permasquare daughter Saffron are strikingly nasty — this interchange, for instance, would NEVER appear on US TV, no matter how “dark” the comedy in question fancied itself as being:
Even in this film, the Saffy/Patsy war continues, with Patsy reprising her classic “Oh, you little bitch troll from hell!” line near the end of the movie. This comes after Edina has accidentally killed Kate Moss by pushing her into the Thames while vying with a fellow publicist for her attention, and subsequently fled to France, Patsy and Saffy’s non-square daughter Lola in tow, where they hole up in a fancy resort by dressing Patsy up as a man and marrying her off to an ancient and extremely rich dowager baroness. It’s nonsense, of course, but it’s not really the point — as ever, Ab Fab remains an exercise in character study, and its characters remain as compelling as they are funny.
And, despite it all, they also remain immensely likable. Ab Fab wouldn’t work if the viewer wound up hating Eddy and Patsy, and part of the show’s genius is that you end up rooting for the duo despite how hilariously ghastly they can be. At Elle, our former Editor-in-Chief Judy Berman suggests that Ab Fab‘s closest US relative is Broad City, whose characters, especially Ilana, can be destructive, but never malicious. So it goes with Ab Fab, really — despite her awful mothering skills, Eddy does love her daughter, and Patsy really does love Eddy, and so on.
And in both cases, the protagonists’ messiness is simply an aspect of their characters, not their defining feature. Abbi and Ilana drink and smoke dope and end up in the occasional compromising situation because that’s what mid-20s girls do; their penchant for doing those things isn’t the be-all and end-all of the characters. Similarly, Eddie and Patsy’s legendary appetite for Stoli, Bolli and anything else they can lay their hands on is perfect because it fits their characters down to a tee; they’re defiantly and desperately hedonistic because that’s what ageing hippies fighting off the inexorable march of reality are like.
In this respect, they’re spot-on satires of capitalism and consumerism. (It’s hardly an accident that satirizing boomers and satirizing capitalism go together like the proverbial horse and carriage.) Eddy and Patsy have defined their lives by their pursuit of the ephemeral and the fundamentally pointless, by continuous and conspicuous consumption of the sort that’s like filling up on candy — it’s satisfying for a moment, and shortly after you feel empty. This is a realization to which Eddy eventually comes (as she and Patsy sit in a car that’s sinking slowly into a swimming pool) — but, crucially, one that she’s happy to discard when it transpires that Kate Moss is in fact not dead, she is no longer Britain’s most hated woman, and she can go back to London and keep doing what she’s always done. Plus ça change, and all that.
Oh, and a special shout-out to the outfits worn by Eddy’s wonderfully daffy PA Bubble, which have long been a highlight of the show, and which don’t disappoint here. Our favorite is a coin toss between a hashtag… thing, to which I’ll have to link because otherwise we’ll get in trouble, and this ensemble:
Anyway, if you’ve loved the Ab Fab TV show over the years, go see the film. If not, you may find yourself like the 50-something critic in the seat next to Flavorwire at the press screening, who sat largely stony-faced throughout the film and whispered loudly to his companion at one point that “There are jokes, but I don’t get them.” Don’t be that guy. You’re missing out on a great deal.