This was not only precisely what I was expecting from an Ab – Fab movie, it was precisely what I wanted from an Ab – Fab movie. Absolutely Fabulous is the full title, or well, I suppose here the full title is actually Absolutely Fabulous! The Movie, a cunning marketing move for those of us who wouldn’t have cribbed the nuance of it playing in theaters as opposed to PBS. An extension (and likely finale) of the cross-continental hit British sitcom that ran for six seasons, Absolutely Fabulous! The Movie focuses on the debaucherous exploits of narcissistic, somewhat mentally deficient PR maven Edina “Eddy” Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders, creator of the series as well as a writer and executive producer here) and her lifelong friend Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley, forever the MVP and seemingly ageless) as they navigate London’s high fashion scene with the same skill they always have. The show was always more interested reveling in the bad behavior of Saunders and especially Lumley, never being particularly concerned with any running plot threads or even a very strong story episode by episode. They stand in the kitchen, bicker, quip, and drink. Then they go to the office for some bickering, quipping, and drinking. Occasionally they would go somewhere like France or Morocco and make xenonphobic jabs whilst drinking. It’s the same thing every week, but it always works. Ab – Fab has always been about Eddy and Pats trying to relive their Mod glory days in swingin’ London, and if you need further evidence of that look no further than the supporting players in the show. Outside of Jane Horrocks, who plays Eddy’s wonderfully daft and incomprehensibly dressed PA Bubble (as well as Bubble’s twin sister, a straight arrow business owner), and June Whitfield as Eddy’s mum, Mrs. Monsoon, the whole of the supporting cast are rather flat. Julia Sawala, playing Eddy’s long suffering daughter Saffy, is dire sometimes in the television show though she has essentially worked six seasons playing the exact same emotions of frustration and disappointment, usually at the same time and for season long stretches.
The movie is no different in terms of it’s focus on Edina and Patsy. Saunders and director Mandie Fletcher clearly know what the fans want, so for the first half of the film they give it to us in spades. The film opens with a montage detailing a night of revelry at London Fashion Week, and we aren’t even two minutes into the film before we’ve seen copious drinking, cocaine snorting, and both leads arriving home in the morning just in time to collapse into a flower bed. We get a lot of time spent in the kitchen, where there is some drinking and a bag of vicious one liners. The set design is remarkable, retaining the most recent iteration of Edina’s kitchen where so much of the action on the show took place but expanding it to show us her Olympic size swimming pool just next to the dining table, as well as showing us the rest of her much talked about but little seen home. We get to see more of the pair’s lavish indulgences when it comes to transportation and clothing. Saunders has a particularly funny bit on a Razor scooter. And of course, because this is Absolutely Fabulous! The Movie, we get to see more of London and many more scenes set outside, which really opens the movie up in a way a sitcom never could. Late in the film, when the duo wind up in the south of France, it almost feels like Saunders is trying to make this as decadent as she possibly can while she can.
The part of the film that works best is the first 50 minutes when it is essentially an extended episode of the show, albeit at a much bigger scale. At the 50 minute mark, the film does what every British TV show that makes the jump to the big screen does: they go on holiday. Well, technically they flee to escape prosecution for Kate Moss’s murder, but tomatoes potatoes. Since the movie is only 85 minutes, the late location switch does give the film a bit of a disjointed feel. I think the balance is off; we get too much time with the set up, not enough time with the payoff. Yet I am aware I just said the film works best during the set up, so I would never fault it for spending too much time with characters I love, even though it can’t help but feel unbalanced. The location switch works with the plot, but a quick rush to resolve a couple plot threads in an exotic locale does give me the sense that Saunders was stretching her material. To give all the credit I can, the film never feels episodic which is something of a miracle considering the source material. The laughs diminish somewhat in the section set in France, but this part opens up a new area for the film to explore. Sawala, who never got much to do on the show, gets to play a big role here and even has a show stopping number where she sings in a drag bar. Additionally, the relationship between Eddy and Saffy is far more developed here than it ever was on the show, actually managing to be quite poignant when it’s all said and done.
Lumley is the biggest reason to see the film. Every line reading she spits out, every face she pulls, every physical bit she does no matter how small is ingenious. The chemistry between the two leads is of course amazing, though Saunders seems to be self consciously playing herself down. While she hasn’t aged as gracefully as Lumley, she’s far from a gremlin and there are a couple too many remarks that don’t feel like jokes but rather Saunders almost apologizing for putting on weight. One of the most interesting things about the evolution of the Ab – Fab franchise is how the characters have remained staunchly the same yet the world around them is changing constantly. In the first few seasons, Eddy and Patsy (but mostly Patsy) were at the forefront of the industry. Twenty-some years later, in the film, they seem like positively desperate hanger’s on, and this isn’t something a lot of franchises would even think to do. Most shows escalate the success of their characters as the series goes on, (remember when Roseanne won the lottery?), but here we have actively seen a steep decline in both Edina and Patsy’s success. It’s fun to see these characters trying to scrape up a bit of dignity and remain a part of the only world they know. It’s surprisingly melancholy, but it’s also a much more interesting turn than to have just kept these two as the pre-eminent fixtures in the industry. Is Absolutely Fabulous! The Movie a perfect cinematic construction? Of course not. But I laughed more than once a minute for the first half, and at least once every two or three minutes during the final movement. The direction and photography is stylish and fun, not at all boxy or TV-quality. It looks and feels like a proper movie. This is exactly what I wanted, and more than I could have asked for as a fan of the show. This would make a perfect end to the franchise, and in a way I hope this is the end. I can’t imagine a more emotionally satisfying conclusion, but if they decided to do another season I would be in front of that TV faster than a bitch troll out of hell.
Absolutely Fabulous! The Movie
* * * 1/2
Directed by Mandie Fletcher
Written by Jennifer Saunders
Starring: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks, June Whitfield, Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness, Chris Colfer, Mo Gaffigan, and Celia Imrie
Rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug use