25 years or so ago, at the height of her powers, Jennifer Saunders unleashed her PR guru character Edina ‘Eddie’ Monsoon on the world, alongside perpetual hanger-on Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), in BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous. Now, following a few one-off specials since the original TV show ended in 1996, the show has transferred to the big screen following in the footsteps of seemingly every British sitcom from Dad’s Army and On The Busses to The Inbetweeners with predictably mixed results.
The story, what there is of it, revolves around Eddie accidentally killing supermodel Kate Moss and going on the run with Patsy to the south of France. What this really provides is a framework on which to loosely hang a series of jokes and set pieces that have a feeling of ‘throw it at the wall and see what sticks’, rather than the well judged jokes and moments Saunders’ work on TV is more known for.
That’s not to say it isn’t funny as it has some great moments both harking back to the TV series and poking fun at the ever-increasing cult of modern celebrity.
On top of this though, and I guess as part of it, more than anything the film feels like an excuse to parade celebrity cameos across the screen. So we get Kate Moss, bigger cameo style parts for Lulu and Emma Bunton (gamely playing along) and a host of others no doubt including some I didn’t get. Standouts of these come in the form Jean-Paul Gaultier, Barry Humphries (twice, sort of) and Jeremy Paxman – a list which sums up something of the sublime to the ridiculous nature of the whole movie.
As the film goes on the plot becomes even more flimsy so that rather than reaching a conclusion it just sort of stops, following a montage of what conveniently happened and something that seems to be aping the classical denouement of Some Like It Hot but totally missing the mark. It feels as if after 90 minutes the writer, editor and director just decided they’d had enough and it was going to finish.
What really holds the film together are the performances, Saunders as Eddie is as ridiculous as you’d expect and, while it feels a little over the top when scaled up it, is what made the character. Lumley as Patsy is pitch perfect throughout, treading a line of ridiculousness excellently, even when the material may not live up to it, and is, in many ways the movie’s standout.
Away from the leads the usual cast of supporting characters return with Julie Sawalha’s Saffie carrying on where she left off in the series as if no time had passed, while Bubble (Jane Horrocks), Mother (June Whitfield) and newcomer Lola, Saffie’s daughter (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) all play their parts well even if I felt there was space for more, particularly from Whitfield who was always a standout of the TV series.
What this all leads to is a film that feels like its got enough ideas for a TV episode but stretched out to 90 minutes while still looking a bit too much like a TV show in places and, while far from the worst movie based on a British TV sitcom, never quite lives up to its source material – and that Kylie version of The Band’s This Wheel’s On Fire over the closing moments is awful.