For a Brit growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s, the cultural phenomenon of Absolutely Fabulous was something of a religion. In much of the way that shows like Seinfeld and Friends permeated American popular culture, phrases like ‘sweetie darling’ became part of everyday language, and along with her professional partner Dawn French who also had staggeringly successful solo projects during this time, Jennifer Saunders was a queen of British comedy for the entire decade. However, with twelve years having passed since the last series and four years since the last special, would Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie be able to recapture the essence of the satirical romp at its best?
Unfortunately, for me, the answer is no. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is essentially a more aesthetically pleasing 90 minute long episode of the sitcom that we know and love, but this is not necessarily a good thing. The beauty of a traditional sitcom episode is that it is so tightly executed and trimmed down that you barely have time to notice the down moments in between the frequent gags, but when you have an hour and a half to play with, the overall substance and quality is significantly weakened. The film sees us reunited with Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), some years older but no years wiser as they become entangled in a national scandal that sees them fleeing to France after apparently killing Kate Moss. The plot feels as inconsequential as it sounds and the entire narrative is really just an elaborate excuse to get the entire band back together along with approximately 568 celebrity cameo appearances, the majority of which fall flat. Long suffering daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha) was always most effective when sparring with Patsy, but for most of the movie the characters are apart and as a result Saffy’s entire storyline does little to enthuse the audience, though it is interesting if not age affirming to see her daughter Lola (played by Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) now a 13 year old who seems to be having a similarly strained relationship with her mother as Saffy did with Edina. The most enjoyable elements of the picture are the subtle and infrequent callbacks to some fan favourite moments from the television show. Thankfully, Saunders does not elect to beat the audience about the head with references and winks, but there is just enough for an Ab Fab fan to pick up on that made the film watching experiencing, at least those parts, pleasantly nostalgic. There was something about the zeitgeist of the 1990s that Absolutely Fabulous picked up on and mercilessly, hilariously showcased to extravagant effect in its hey-day, but, just as with the handful of specials that have been made since the original show ended, watching these larger than life characters in 2016 just does not feel as funny as it did back then, it is very much a case of laughing at rather than laughing with, and all too frequently throughout the narrative, not laughing at all. It cannot be denied that for any fan of the show, it is nice to be back in the company of these beloved characters, but ultimately, that is not enough, and what has been produced is one of those kinds of projects that looks like it was much more fun to film that it is to watch.
As protagonist Edina, Jennifer Saunders gives a rather less energetic performance than we are used to seeing. Whether it’s to do simply with Eddie ageing or to do with the fact that the narrative deals with a loss of confidence and a loss of financial circumstance, Saunders plays the character in a much less frenetic manner than she has before and as a result the film lacks some much needed energy to compliment its fast paced scene changes and impressive locations. Joanna Lumley, on the other hand, gives the star turn and fills Patsy with as much life and liquor as ever. Though the bulk of her story in the film is actually one of the weaker segments of the narrative, Lumley steals pretty much every scene she is in, for such a mild mannered, demure woman in reality, she really does seem to have been born to play Patsy Stone. As mentioned above, Julia Sawalha as Saffy is somewhat underused in the film, with little to none of the comedy coming from her screen presence. It almost felt as though Jennifer Saunders wanted to make a road trip caper film starring Eddie and Patsy, but didn’t have the heart to leave Saffy out completely. Some of the more enjoyable and effective cameos are made by the likes of Rebel Wilson, Stella McCartney and Chris Colfer, and of course it is nice to see June Whitfield and Jane Horrocks in their classic roles, but the abundance of random celebrity cameos served only to cheapen the film, making it look less like a much anticipated big screen venture and more like a D-list celeb reunion documentary.
Overall, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie turned out to be absolutely average, and that is being kind. It might have enough about it to satisfy the girly night in crowd, but it certainly isn’t something that you should be rushing out to see, even if you are a huge fan of the show. My advice? Head over to Netflix and watch the episodes from the golden age instead, they are much more fabulous than anything you will see on the big screen.