There’s a reason sit-com movie spin-offs have a bad reputation. Trying to recreate humour that worked on the small screen for cinema audiences is extremely difficult and, coupled with the fact that Absolutely Fabulous is getting on a bit now, the mere idea of this was a gamble.
The Inbetweeners movies are often cited as examples of this working, but their in-built audience was a lot closer to the original than Ab Fab‘s is. This is not for newcomers or the mildly curious, then, but it is a veritable treat for children and adults of the 90s, existing fans and anyone who quite likes Saunders’ brand of comedy.
It sets up the premise pretty quickly, with an ageing Edina (Jennifer Saunders) informed by Mark Gatiss’ book editor that her life hasn’t been nearly as interesting as she’d like to think. Her career as a big-shot PR fading, she sets about getting the lucrative Kate Moss account.
When things go awry, she and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) go on the run, ending up in the South of France with Saffy’s (Julia Sawalha)’s daughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) in tow.
It starts off well, trading on affection for these characters and the fantastical world they exist in just enough while also setting up a fairly plausible trajectory for Edina and Patsy to travel through. The cameos range from dull to very fun (Gwendoline Christie is an early highlight), which is expected for a cast list as long as this, and all the action set in London has an infectious energy to it.
Sitting in my screening, for example, it was near-impossible not to get drunk on the atmosphere. This movie is not going to change the face of comedy or even spark a resurgence of 90s-style sitcoms, but it feels like something the British public probably needs right about now.
It flirts with being a commentary about ageing, ‘keeping the party going’ and acknowledging those personal ties you might take for granted. Thankfully, Edina and Patsy are never really punished for their lifestyle and no one learns a big lesson, but the seeds of the idea are welcome in any case.
The central pair of Saunders and Lumley are fabulous as always, with Lumley especially recapturing that same magic that made the TV show such a success in the first place. But we shouldn’t forget that this is a film also written (Saunders) and directed by (Mandie Fletcher) women, with many more talented female filmmakers behind the scenes. This is a lovely note for British cinema, yes, but also for women behind the camera.
If only it could have maintained itself, and not played into the tired trope of ‘sitcom movies sends its characters abroad for hilarious shenanigans’. The fish out of water concept should work beautifully for this, of course, but unfortunately it’s around this point where the comedy gets more scattershot and far less effective. A film like this is reliant on nostalgia, and Saunders would have been better off keeping things more self-contained.
Complaining about ‘old-fashioned’ humour seems pointless when talking about Ab Fab, but here’s my brief note of warning: there’s a fair bit of fun poked at trans people in this film. Do with that information what you will.
So the movie doesn’t attempt to even slightly reinvent the wheel, or really go for any character development of its central cast of colourful characters, but it benefits greatly from the presence of very familiar, very talented and extremely funny stars like Lumley and Saunders. The time they’ve been gone, rather than distancing us from the concept, only makes us more glad they’re back.
That supernova comes at the expense of anyone else on screen, such as Saffy, newbie Lola or any of the numerous cameos scattered throughout. Acknowledging that this is firmly Edina and Patsy’s film, and should always be, it would have been nice to spend some time with the other characters.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie does what it came to do, in the end – make us laugh, allow us to escape for 90-minutes as some old friends get into some predictable scrapes and remind us that, yes, sixty can be the new forty.