Absolutely Fabulous has taken its time over the years. Producing a relatively modest 39 episodes (plus a few specials) during a respectable twenty years, it has never tried to over-egg the pudding. Jennifer Saunders has continued to be unfeasibly funny throughout and the never-aging Lumley’s alcoholic anti-hero always delivers. Yet the move from a successful TV series to the big screen is always a risky one, and very few have ever succeeded. It’s a telling sign that people always point to Porridge as an example of how this transition can work, and that was almost 40 years ago (and the Porridge movie wasn’t particularly great anyway). If the absolute debacle that was Dad’s Army isn’t enough to put people off, then it makes you wonder what will.
Aging PR professional Edina (Saunders) is struggling to keep up her roster of celebrities, leaving her with the increasingly miffed pairing of Lula and Emma Bunton as clients. When her memoirs are met with derision from an international book publisher and her estranged husband pulls the plug on her maintenance, she realises she needs to acquire some fresh blood. When Patsy (Lumley) accidentally reveals Kate Moss is looking for new representation to a room-full of PR executives, the marketing vultures start to circle. In a desperate attempt to corner Moss at a fashion show, Edina accidentally tips the Croydon megastar over the balcony into the Thames, leading to a public witch-hunt to make Edina pay for killing off one of the world’s favourite celebrities.
Absolutely Fabulous is almost formulaically flawed. The first 30 minutes set the stage with the perfect flow of a regular episode; the comedy quick and fast, the qualities of the series executed with similar comedic ferocity. The next 30 minutes realise that some scrap of a story has to be developed, and the comedy starts to take the backseat as jokes are awkwardly weaved into a progressively substandard and silly narrative. The last 30 minutes is virtually void of laughs as the writers struggle to make any sense whatsoever of the difficult plot they’ve cornered themselves into. It then labours to deliver anything close to a climax, desperately concerning itself with expensive backdrops and clunky slapstick. It’s the same old predictable series-to-feature faults.
All the original beloved characters are here; Bubble’s (Horrocks) street-wise cutting daftness, Saffron’s (Sawalha) overly straight-edged sensibility to the madness around her, impossibly old Mother’s (Whitfield) barmy lack of comprehension. Yet as time passes, less and less of them are seen as Edina and Patsy take full centre stage on their madcap escape from the English media and justice system. Robert Webb struggles in his role as the daft police constable boyfriend of Saffron, his characteristic straight faced buffoonery struggling outside of his self-penned sketches.
The list of cameos on show here is borderline insane, yet all work genuinely well. No-one takes themselves remotely seriously and Jerry Hall’s fabulous self-parody of an egocentric supermodel is a wonderful example of this. Joan Collins, Christopher Biggins, Celia Imrie, Ruby Wax, Sadie Frost, Dawn French, Lily Cole, Graham Norton, Alesha Dixon, Barrie Humphries, Ozwald Boeteng and Jean Paul Gautier all appear yet it’s the wonderful Kathy Burke who steals the show with her fabulously potty-mouthed fashion mogul Magda.
It’s difficult to say Absolutely Fabulous is a disappointment because it pans out exactly as expected. It’s intensely funny to begin with but progressively tails off into a humourless muddle by the end. It has all the ingredients that made the original series such a success but as is so commonly the case, the writers have struggled to make the successful transition from 30 to 90 minutes.
2 / 5
Dir: Mandie Fletcher
Scr: Jennifer Saunders
Cast: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Jane Horrocks, Julia Sawalha, June Whitfield
Prd: Damian Jones, Jon Plowman
Music: Jake Monaco
DOP: Chris Goodger
Country: UK, USA
Run Time: 90 Minutes