Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. (Photo: Fox Searchlight)
ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE
★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Mandie Fletcher
STARS Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley
“I wouldn’t recommend getting in the Jacuzzi. It’s a smoothie of old-man semen.” While it’s tempting to believe this eyebrow-raising snatch of dialogue came from Finding Dory or The BFG, it’s actually one of the many naughty bits found in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, the big-screen adaptation of the popular British comedy that ran off and on for 41 episodes between 1992 and 2012. Having never seen the show, I can’t state how well it carries on TV’s Ab Fab tradition — a colleague who cites the series as among his all-time faves opined at the advance screening that it fails to recapture its former glory, while others have written that it’s a marvelous tribute to the Brit sitcom. My advice: Definitely take a chance if you’re a fan of the show, but newbies should proceed with caution.
The movie does get off to a, yes, fabulous start, as best friends Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone (series stars Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley) are still trying to remain trendy and amass gargantuan wealth — Edina by nabbing Kate Moss as a client for her PR firm, Patsy by doing as little as humanly possible. Matters turn disastrous for the pair, though, when they attend a swank fashion soirée and Edina accidentally knocks Moss into the Thames. Because the supermodel is presumed dead (her body can’t be found), Edina suddenly becomes the most hated person in the world, and she and Patsy flee to the French Riviera in the hopes of finding a rich husband for Patsy so the pair can fade away in rich anonymity.
For a while, the fact that this looks and sounds like no other movie in theaters works to its advantage, with colorful characters and off-kilter dialogue dominating the proceedings. But after the Moss drowning, when the film should kick into a higher gear, it instead idles to a stultifying degree, and the draggy midsection (comprised primarily of Edina and Patsy wallowing in self-pity) suggests that director Mandie Fletcher (who also helmed episodes of the series) and Saunders (as screenwriter) didn’t have enough material to justify a feature-length outing. Luckily, the movie rallies during the third act (complete with a closing scenario echoing Some Like It Hot‘s classic finale), although even here, Fletcher’s clumsy small-screen staging is at odds with Saunders’ efforts to open up the film.
As expected, there are cameos galore (Jon Hamm, Lulu, and Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton are among those playing themselves), as well as small roles for currently hot actors (Rebel Wilson as a flight attendant, Mark Gatiss, Sherlock‘s creator/Mycroft Holmes, amusing as a book publisher) — you can also count on seeing celebrities who haven’t been in the public consciousness since Reagan was president (Joan Collins, Jerry Hall). All these fleeting appearances are like the movie itself: Amazon hot and Arctic cold, with some of them inspiring affection and amusement and others leading to nothing more than an exaggerated shoulder shrug.