'Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie'
‘Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie’ is a spirited attempt to revive a TV series that already played out for 20 years on television before jumping into movie theaters. It’s an example of both what to do and what not to do in these sorts of projects. It’s fine, probably even more than fine for obsessive fans, but not exactly a necessary extension of a somewhat overplayed joke.
It’s not easy to transfer a popular TV show to the big screen. The mediums seem so similar but are ultimately quite different. For one thing, the type of silly throwaway storyline that might sustain a sitcom isn’t enough at feature length. For another, there’s the challenge of having to create a film that can both satisfy longtime fans and introduce a pre-existing universe to unfamiliar audiences without alienating those who can quote every line of back story. Then there’s the tendency so many show creators have to gratuitously explode the scale of their stories and fill the screen with cameos from famous fans, which rarely works as well in practice as in theory. There are a lot of pitfalls to these things, even if they seem like safe bets based on past success.
As you likely worked out, the ‘Ab Fab’ film follows the adventures of hard drinking and drugging BFFs Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumely) continuing their adventures in bad behavior. The fact that the duo our now sliding into their 60s has done nothing to change their shallow ways. If anything, it just makes them a little more refined in their obnoxiousness. The rest of the gang are also back. PR rep Edina’s conservative daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha) is now stuck with a disapproving teen daughter of her own. Her dippy mother (June Whitfield) still supplies not entirely wise advice, and her assistant Bubble (Jane Horrocks) still spits out an impenetrable accent in ridiculous clothes. The more things change, the more they stay the same –only now with smartphone references. However, this is a movie so there must be a plot. There’s a ridiculous stretch involving Edina desperately trying to nab Kate Moss as a client, which goes so wrong that the gang are forced to flee the country for the French Riviera to meet up with an old porn producing friend.
Not that the plot matters much. It’s just an excuse to hang as many jokes onto a flimsy narrative clothesline as possible, some call-backs to the past and most new. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t waste too much time handholding new viewers, mostly because the characters are endearingly simple enough to pick up on the fly. The targets are the same, mercilessly mocking youth and vanity obsessed culture for all it’s worth. A little poignant satire gets mixed in when the central duo realize that they’ve aged out of relevancy while men their age are still allowed in the party. Likewise, the brand of vapid narcissism that ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ keeps in its crosshairs has only grown in the current cultural climate, which gives the movie plenty of opportunities for new twists on old jokes. Saunders and Lumely are still brilliant in these roles, with the latter getting most of the best lines and delivering them with enough devilish deadpan that it’s easy to forget we’re not in the 1990s anymore. The character still feels on-point.
Unfortunately, while Saunders’ script serves up plenty of laughs, it also struggles to extend TV characters to a feature setting like so many of these adaptations before it. Everything feels padded and extended to meet the running time. The tightly-wound comedic insanity of the best episodes of the series is lost in favor of extended slapstick. The trip to France provides a lazy way of shoving old characters into a new environment for the sake of scale, and the wall-to-wall cameos from fans like Jon Hamm and Rebel Wilson rarely amount to anything more than familiar faces to smile at.
‘Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie’ certainly doesn’t tarnish the legacy of the series, but it’s hardly a necessary addition to the franchise and likely would have worked far better as an hour-long special than a 90-minute cinematic trip down memory lane. Still, for fans feeling nostalgic for this delightfully absurd comedy relic, there’s great fun to be had. Anyone unfamiliar with the series should likely start from the beginning, though. This is more of a spirited encore than a necessary new chapter. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that; it’s just worth knowing when you’re about to sit down to watch a victory lap rather than the real thing.