Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie (2016)
Screenplay by Jennifer Saunders;
Directed by Mandie Fletcher.
Some TV series are well suited to move spin-offs. Some are not. Fortunately, the "Ab Fab" TV comedy, now well over 20 years since it first hit the airwaves, translates well to the big screen. This is the first-ever "Ab Fab" movie. It probably won't be the last.
This one is strictly for the fans of Jennifer Saunders' bitingly satiric comedy about celebrity culture and self-absorption. If you didn't see the "Ab Fab" TV show, or didn't "get" its comedy, don't bother with the movie. You won't like it and you won't understand it. For everyone else, you'll get a good laugh out of it, because Saunders' feel for comedy and the hilarious awfulness of her key characters, Patsy and Eddy, are undiminished in this film.
All the much-loved original characters are there, played by the people who made them famous in the TV series. Saunders herself as Eddy, Joanna Lumley as Patsy, Eddy's bitchy and sex-mad friend and business partner; Jane Horrocks as Bubble, the air-headed PA; June Whitfield as Mother, all kindly good intentions but completely dotty; and Julia Sawalha as Saffy, the much put-upon daughter who can never quite believe her mother's (Eddy's) true ghastliness. Throw in dozens of celebs, most of whom play themselves, and who might only be on screen for a minute or two: Graham Norton, Dawn French, Jerry Hall, Barry Humphries, Lulu (who was a regular in the original TV series), Emma Bunton, Jon Hamm, Kate Moss, and Rebel Wilson – just to name a few – and you get the idea they were all clamouring for a part, however small, in the film. Which they probably were; in the original TV series, Saunders seemed to have no trouble in getting A-listers to play parts at will.
The story is suitably light-weight and frothy. At a celebrity event organised by Eddy's and Patsy's PR company, Kate Moss is accidentally pushed into the Thames and disappears. Did she drown? Will she ever come back? Will civilisation survive? Dogged by the scandal and the police, Patsy and Eddy flee to the south of France to escape the brouhaha. Flat broke, they concoct a scheme for Patsy to marry into money and so save the Ab Fab pair's fortunes. All of which gives Saunders, Lumley and their associates brilliant and funny opportunities to skewer our obsession with celebrities, modern-day narcissism, Western society's self-absorption, sex, money, the PR game, and gender roles. My favourite scene: the meeting between Jon Hamm (from "Mad Men" and playing himself) and a half-drunk Patsy who claims him as a former lover. I'm not sure how they kept straight faces while playing the scene, it's hilarious.
I recently saw a TV interview with Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley. They were asked what they really thought of the characters of Eddie and Patsy. Oh, they are terrible people, they both opined. Dreadful, you definitely would not want to go out to dinner with them! True, but intensely funny in a slightly embarrassing sort of way, as if we recognise a small part of our modern selves in this excruciating two-some.
The moviemakers have wisely kept the film short – barely one and a half hours long. I think Eddy and Patsy are best appreciated in short, sharp bursts. While it is great to see all the original actors from the TV series playing their famous characters, I wonder whether the ditzy, air-headed Bubble should be played by someone younger than the otherwise-excellent Jane Horrocks. After all, Bubble is the archetypal empty-headed, vacuous dolly bird-cum-young blonde. But then, I guess even dolly-birds age. And anyway, loyal "Ab Fab" fans would probably revolt if Bubble was played by anyone else. You know the old saying: when you're on a good thing ...
And this movie is a good thing. If you are an "Ab Fab" fan, I think you will agree the movie version more than upholds the spirit of the old TV series. You will laugh and you will cringe, probably in equal measure. I enjoyed it very much. At the end, I kept asking myself, "I wonder if they will make an Ab Fab 2?"
We wait, with bated breath.
Gilbert's star rating (out of five): * * * 3/4