Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha. Directed by Mandie Fletcher. Rated R. Opens Friday in select theaters.
It’s fitting that the central storyline of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie hinges on the supposed massive popularity of someone whose fame peaked in the ’90s, since the movie itself feels like a relic of a past era, and not in a good way. In the U.K., sitcom Absolutely Fabulous was hugely successful in its initial run from 1992-96, and the cast has periodically reunited for TV specials and additional short seasons (the most recent in 2012). In the U.S., though,Ab Fab is at best a cult phenomenon, thanks mainly to its airings on Comedy Central in the ’90s (it has since aired on Oxygen, BBC America and Logo).
So this theatrical movie is a bit of a victory lap for star/creator Jennifer Saunders, co-star Joanna Lumley and the supporting cast, but that kind of self-congratulatory send-off only works if the audience has enormous inherent goodwill for the characters. This movie may test the patience of even the most ardent Ab Fab fans with its dated, often regressive humor, its endless parade of celebrity cameos and its aimless, bloated plot, which never once feels like it should be stretched beyond the length of a single sitcom episode.
Still, there was a time when insecure, narcissistic publicist Edina Monsoon (Saunders) and her even more self-centered best friend, fashion editor Patsy Stone (Lumley), were very funny to watch, and occasionally a bit of that comes through in the new movie. The humor in the show, especially in the early days, was at the expense of Edina and Patsy and what terrible people they are, but as the characters have become pop-culture icons, Saunders (who wrote the screenplay) seems to have a tougher time cutting them down. Instead, they’re portrayed as endearingly clueless, bumbling through fashion shows and parties and finding themselves on the run from the authorities after Edina accidentally almost kills model Kate Moss (whose fame is so great, apparently, that this act sparks a global outrage).
Once Edina and Patsy head to Cannes to hide out, along with Edina’s teenage granddaughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness), the movie completely loses its way, with a string of tone-deaf jokes and a half-hearted attempt at suspense (Edina’s perpetual wet-blanket daughter Saffron, played by Julia Sawalha, and Edina’s ditzy assistant Bubble, played by Jane Horrocks, attempt to track the two women down). The direction by British TV veteran Mandie Fletcher (who helmed a few episodes of the Ab Fab TV series) does little to expand the sitcom-level visual style, and the characters look out of place whenever they leave the familiar confines of Edina’s apartment. Like the show itself, they’re probably best off remaining where they came from.