Aging gracefully (and not) - Older than Ireland **** & Absolutely Fabulous **½
By Dennis Hartley
Tell me, muse, of the storyteller who has been thrust to the edge of the world, both an infant and an ancient, and through him reveal everyman. With time, those who listened to me became my readers. They no longer sit in a circle, but rather sit apart. And one doesn't know anything about the other. I'm an old man with a broken voice, but the tale still rises from the depths, and the mouth, slightly opened, repeats it as clearly, as powerfully. A liturgy for which no one needs to be initiated to the meaning of words and sentences – Wings of Desire, script by Wim Wenders, Peter Handke & Richard Reitinger
They say that with age, comes wisdom. Just don’t ask a centenarian to impart any, because they are likely to smack you right in the kisser. Not that there is even a hint of any violence in Alex Fegan and Garry Walsh’s documentary, Older than Ireland, but there appears to be consensus among their interviewees (all aged from 100-113 years) that the question they find to be most irksome is: “What’s your secret to living so long?”
But once that hurdle is cleared, Fegan and Walsh’s subjects have much to impart in this wonderfully entertaining (and ultimately moving) pastiche of the human experience. The wordplay of the film title refers to its release on the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising (the birth of the Irish Republic), and the fact that all interviewees were born beforehand.
These aren’t luminaries, just everyday folks. But everyone has a story to tell; particularly someone who can say they’ve seen everything from World War I to Snapchat during their lifetime. Yet this isn’t necessarily a dry history lesson, either. A collection of personal histories, perhaps; but instantly and universally relatable. From memories of a first kiss (or sneaking off for “a snoggle in the ditch”, as one woman amusingly recalls) to remembering tragedy and loss. Or contemplating the conundrum of outliving everybody who ever meant anything to you; once considered, do you really hope you’ll live to 100?
So turn off your personal devices for 80 minutes, watch this wondrous film and plug into humankind’s forgotten backup system: the Oral Tradition. You may not discover The Secret to Eternal Life (which I’m convinced has everything to do with “genetics”, considering the one interviewee always seen puffing away and another who says she’s “never eaten a vegetable in [her] life”), but you just may learn something about yourself.
The world has changed and strangely enough caught up with the Ab Fab women because in those days, it was shocking – women drinking too much, staying out, not caring, doing stuff like that. Social media didn’t exist. [ ] And now the world is much more sensitive. People take offence at the smallest things, which in those days were just funny. In the future, it’s going to be harder to write anything. – Joanna Lumley (in a Stylist interview)
While you may assume Ms. Lumley (above right), one of the stars of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is referring to the 1950s when she says “those days”, she is actually referring to the 1990s…which is when she originally assumed the character of “Patsy Stone” in the popular Britcom Absolutely Fabulous (1992-1996, later revived 2001-2004). The BBC series was the brainchild of brilliantly funny writer/actress Jennifer Saunders, casting herself as the other half of this fabulous duo, Edina Monsoon.
Edina is a PR agent, whose biggest client is Lulu (yes, that Lulu, who played herself to amusing effect in the TV series and reappears in the new film). Patsy is a magazine editor, and Edina’s BFF. While they both have “jobs” (in a manner of speaking), we rarely see them “working”, in the traditional sense. They expend most of their time cringingly attempting to ingratiate themselves with London’s hippest tastemakers, fashionistas, pop stars, and hottest actors/actresses du jour. For the most part, they’re snubbed (or ignored altogether). Yet they persevere, when not otherwise busy imbibing champagne and/or any drug they are within snorting distance of. Patsy, in particular, is always on the pull; usually for younger men (there’s a switch). Bad behavior all around.
Back to Lumley’s observations for a moment. I’m going to risk crucifixion here (won’t be the first time) and heartily concur with her point regarding the intersection of P.C. and Funny these days. Now, I’m a card-carryin’, tree-huggin’, NPR-listenin’ pinko lib’rul, and I fully understand the subjective nature of humor. But speaking as a lifelong comedy fan (and ex-standup performer myself), I remain a firm believer in the credo that in comedy, nothing is sacred. I don’t always agree with Bill Maher, but I’m with him 100% on his crusade to call out a new Bizarro World Hays Code from a portion of the Left that has even forced mainstream fixtures like Jerry Seinfeld to swear off playing college gigs.
In light of today’s techy climate for comedy, another principal character in Absolutely Fabulous, Edina’s daughter Saffron (played by Julia Sawalha, also reprising her original role in the film) almost seems a prescient creation on Saunders’ part. Saffron, who progressed from secondary school to university through the course of the original series, was really the only “adult” character in the household. Dour, disapproving, and very P.C. (long before the term became so de rigueur) she did her best to keep her mother in line (rarely succeeding, to her chagrin). So here you have the child lecturing the parent to get home at a decent hour, lay off the drugs, be more financially responsible, etc. Patsy, as Edina’s longtime chief enabler, views Saffron as a party-pooper (ergo her mortal enemy).
The show was not for all tastes; personally, I loved it. “Bad taste”, in the right hands, can make for some grand entertainment (John Waters’ oeuvre comes to mind). It was pretty outrageous, and very British; which is probably why we never saw an American remake (would never work anyway). In a roundabout way, it was also feminist-positive; and the world has in fact “caught up with the Ab Fab women”, as evidenced by the success of HBO’s Girls, plus a recent slew of Comedy Central originals like Inside Amy Schumer, Another Period, and Broad City (the latter program comes closest to Ab Fab in attitude).
And so it is that the big screen adaptation (written by Saunders and directed by Mandie Fletcher), despite being at least 20 years tardy to cash in on its TV legs, surprisingly manages to retain its original ethos without really seeming that anachronistic. That is not to say that you should expect it to be much deeper than a sitcom episode. Which it isn’t.
The plot, of course, is completely ridiculous; Edina and Patsy get a hot tip that supermodel Kate Moss has dumped her PR person, so they weasel their way into a chic soiree (which they naturally would never be invited to attend), and somehow the overly-enthusiastic Edina knocks Kate over a railing into the murky depths of the Thames. Assuming (along with fellow attendees) that she has just sent one of the world’s most famous models to a watery grave, Edina and Patsy panic and flee to the South of France.
Does hilarity ensue? I wouldn’t rank it with Some Like it Hot (which is cleverly referenced in the final scene), but it is colorful, campy, over-the-top, and yes, politically incorrect…but quite amusing. And perhaps it does have something to say about social media feeding frenzies and mob mentality. You may forget what you watched by the time you get back to your car, but it sure is fun while it lasts. Sometimes, that’s all you need.
digby 7/23/2016 05:00:00 PM