Unjustly overlooked 80's musical9/10
I had just graduated high school(in California) when this movie came out, in the summer of 1986. Given the heavy promotion given it by MTV(I believe they had a contest whose winner would appear in the film, though I may have remembered that wrong), and given that David Bowie, whose music career was on the upswing, had a starring role(along with a mix of musicians like veteran Ray Davies(of the Kinks) and newcomer Sade), you'd expect the movie would be a hit. Instead, it barely made a dent in America(in their year-end issue, Rolling Stone called it one of the hype jobs of the year), and seems to have been largely forgotten(though in an interview with Rolling Stone about a year later, Bowie claimed it was a cult hit). In fact, while star Patsy Kensit has had an erratic career, Bowie continued to make music and the occasional movie, and director Julien Temple, after this and EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY, went back to his forte, music videos, it's sort of ironic that the most successful person to come from that movie is Robbie Coltrane(TV's CRACKER), who only had a small role here.
Why am I boring you all with this? Because ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS is one of the unsung classics of the 80's. Of course, having grown up on old-time musicals(my dad was a fan), I'm probably more receptive to them than the average person seems to be today, but this is one of the best ones of the last two decades. Not only are all the numbers well-written and well sung(in addition to Bowie, Davies, and Sade, jazz great Gil Evans wrote the instrumental score, and Style Council contributes a song. Also, female lead Patsy Kensit sings one, while male lead Eddie O'Connell lip-syncs his numbers), they're also imaginatively staged. A good example is "Motivation," one of two numbers Bowie sings(the other being the title song), which includes parodies of Busby Berkley-type numbers. There's also a wicked parody of teen pop.
As for the story, Temple has the fine novel to fall back on(by Colin MacInnes), and while there's probably too many ideas trying to burst out(teen alienation, racism, "Selling Out"(the name of another song), he juggles them all with finesse. And the cast handles things with aplomb, with the exception of, surprisingly, Bowie; while he's appropriately super-smooth as the oily executive, his voice(intended to be an American accent?) is annoying. But O'Connell and Kensit are both fresh and appealing, Anita Morris and James Fox both play well in their typecast roles(as, respectively, a sexpot gossip columnist and an effete fashion designer), there's a nice turn by Mandy Rice-Davies(who, you may remember, was in real life involved in the Profumo scandal), and a host of others in small but memorable parts(the ones I can remember are Steven Berkoff(BEVERLY HILLS COP) and Bruce Payne(PASSENGER 57) as fascists, and Paul Rhys(VINCENT AND THEO) as a mod). All in all, well worth tracking down.