Reviews for Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie have universally given the big screen adaptation 3 out of 5 stars, with plenty of nods to the “fizzing chemistry” and bad behaviour of Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.
Acknowledging that it doesn’t quite qualify as a feature, it sounds like a romp for dedicated fans -which is presumably its intent.
Basically, Joanna Lumley saves this film: she has an imperishable hauteur and comedy-charisma. She is the garden bridge that stops this film from collapsing into the Thames. You don’t need silly cameos when you’ve got Lumley. The scene at the beginning when she injects her face with Botox is a showstopper. Nicolas Winding Refn must be kicking himself he didn’t have that in his fashion horror-thriller The Neon Demon. Absolutely Fabulous is reasonably good fun – although I would have liked to see a dramatisation of the classic Kate Moss anecdote, doing a dystopia-chic fashion shoot in a ruined building and being told by a timid assistant that the only toilets she could use were ones with no doors. Moss replied: “Well, how am I supposed to get in, then?”
Much like the BBC-produced TV series that spawned it, Ab Fab: The Movie succeeds best when it lets stars Saunders and Joanna Lumley as Edina’s dearest enabler Patsy stand around delivering zingers while wearing ridiculous outfits. Its touch is much less assured when it comes to the business of delivering plot. Indeed, screenwriter-star Saunders has been jocularly frank in pre-release interviews about how long it took to write the script, bashed out in just enough time to avoid losing a £10,000 bet with her long-term writing and performing partner Dawn French. That making-it-up-as-they-go sloppiness has always been part of the Ab Fab brand’s charm, but over the course of a 91-minute film the frayed seams and safety pin-fastenings are more obvious. It’s telling that three editors — Anthony Boys, Gavin Buckley and Billy Sneddon — are credited here, and considering how often supporting characters in the subplots drop in and out of focus in the last act, one can only imagine what kind of carnage there was in the editing suite. But never mind, darlings, there are gorgeous drag artists in the Vauxhall Tavern weeping as Edina’s daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha) sings Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen,” Jon Hamm (playing himself) confessing he lost his virginity to Patsy and Joan Collins in a series of picture hats. What’s not to love?
Their fizzing chemistry carries us briskly along even when the plot meanders again on the Riviera. Saunders’ script is filled with enough genuine zingers – the best of them delightfully mean – that even a high rate of misfires and an ending nicked from Some Like It Hot can’t bog it down completely. This is at its best when it focuses on two women behaving badly, downing Bolly with fags in their hands and drugs in their hair. The laughs come and go, but Edina and Patsy are classics.
It’s hard to think of any other recent film with a star-cameo contingent that runs quite as comprehensively from A- to Z-list. As everyone from Joan Collins to Jon Hamm to Perez Hilton checks in, this neon romp might seem at risk of overcrowding — particularly with much of the show’s regular ensemble, including June Whitfield as Eddy’s dotty twinset-and-pearls mom, Jane Horrocks as Eddy’s daffy PA and 1960s pop pixie Lulu as her oldest and most disgruntled client, also reporting for duty. Still, a personal appearance by the Queen herself would do little to distract from the joyous, film-driving chemistry between Saunders and Lumley, two effervescent pros who fit each other as comfortably as a sensible pair of flat-heeled shoes — the kind on which “Ab Fab’s” longstanding, awesomely taste-defying costume designer Rebecca Hale (having the time of her life here with an upgraded budget) must long ago have issued a blanket ban.
The endless show-business cameos threatened in the trailer (both returning characters and as-themselves celebs) are every bit as wincingly ingratiating as expected – though there’s something admirable about a film that can somehow get Jean-Paul Gaultier and Janette Krankie on screen within five minutes of each other. Fortunately, this stuff is mostly confined to party set-pieces on the film’s fringes. The botox-pumped meat of the thing is all Eddy and Patsy. The opening sequence, which spans a miserable night out and an even worse morning after, bodes well. Jokes about incontinence and foetus-blood facial injections rub happily along beside foul double-entendres and humiliating pratfalls: it’s very much business as usual.
You can’t fault the film on its (to use the language of bad screenwriting classes) Significant Incident. Edina and Patsy, old PR agent and older something- or-other, head to a party when they hear that Kate Moss has ditched her publicist. In the tussle to attract her attention, Moss is cast into the Thames to endure a watery death. Soon Wark, Paxman, Guerin and Raworth are denouncing our heroes as killers. Sadly, Saunders’s screenplay does little with the promising premise. The duo flee to the south of France, where long narrative calms are interrupted by absurdly hurried plot cyclones. Sitcoms have, in their film incarnations, been going on holiday since Are You Being Served? went to the Costa Plonka in 1977. Few new spins are added to the formula here.
While it’s almost guaranteed to satisfy those fans still possessed of their faculties when it goes out internationally through Fox Searchlight (which will be looking for the Mamma Mia! crowd), the fact that AbFab hasn’t really shifted its moorings from the small screen is probably part of that success. Experienced TV hand and longtime Jennifer Saunders collaborator Mandie Fletcher delivers a safe film which comes across more like a souped-up Christmas special than a fully nourished drama, and that TV slot is its ultimate commercial destination.
There are a few witty visual gags (the way Patsy ingests aspirin on the morning after a bender, for example) and funny call-backs to long running jokes (like the one about Patsy being transgender or the fact that Edina’s most famous client is British singer Lulu). Undoubtedly fans will still enjoy seeing Edina and Patsy wreak havoc on their livers once again — if anything, there’s something even more engaging and defiant about their refusal to bend to societal norms 20-plus years later. But like the Sex and the City film (and its even more unnecessary sequel), Absolutely Fabulous works best consumed bite-sized; there’s not enough here to warrant a full-length movie. Too much feels like padding (for example, Chris Colfer’s irritating appearance as a hairdresser who says “Take the pain, bitch!” during a comb-out or Rebel Wilson’s ultimately pointless turn as a flight attendant). Revisiting Edina and Patsy wasn’t a bad idea — especially not since there’s even more celebrity nonsense to poke fun at these days — but another short TV season might have been a better format. Fewer guest stars and red carpet shots. More jokes and less filler. Don’t water down our champagne — we’d prefer a shot of vodka in it.
It gets released in Australia on August 11th.