Movie Review: Absolutely Fabulous is not so fabulous any more
Our film critic on an ill-advised caper that's only saved by the comic timing of Joanna Lumley
Though there have been intermittent revivals, the original series of Absolutely Fabulous ran from 1990 to 1996, and seemed to epitomise the flashy hedonism of London at that time.
In fact the sitcom is so indelibly linked to that decade that it's hard to imagine its histrionic characters existing in any other era. But exist they do, for Jennifer Saunders has resurrected Eddy and Patsy for this new feature-length adventure she's been working on since 2012.
They were of course a priceless combination, two hard-drinking, drug-taking, fag-chewing former hippies whose disregard for those around them was nothing short of staggering. Joanna Lumley, a noted beauty who'd been best known till that point for playing a glamorous secret agent in the camp 1970s TV show 'Avengers', revealed an entirely unexpected gift for comedy playing Patsy Stone, a trashy, narcissistic and epically hedonistic magazine editor. Saunders played Edina 'Eddy' Monsoon, a monstrously selfish mess of a PR woman who is saved from disaster time and again by her owlish and world-weary daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha).
It was comedy gold, in fact it's now probably shown on Comedy Gold, but the question is, will what worked in the 1990s still be fit for purpose? All the principal players (including 90-year-old June Whitfield, who plays Eddy's wily and light-fingered mother) return in this giddy comic feature film which features no end of celebrity cameos, including a brief but pertinent one from that icon of 90s London herself, Kate Moss.
Patsy and Eddy are a good deal older than when we last met them, but not a bit wiser, and are still partying hard and collapsing home at all hours. All, however, is not well: the lavish house Eddy won in her messy divorce is about to be repossessed, and her PR business has seen better days.
"What is PR exactly," a bemused publisher asks at one point, a good question to which neither you, I, nor Eddy have a satisfying answer. Her client list consists of has-been pop stars like Lulu and Emma Bunton, and the prospect of life without credit cards and Bollinger is unthinkable. Then Patsy has a plan.
Hearing that Kate Moss has just fired her PR agency, Eddy and Patsy decide to swoop on her at a glitzy launch and charm her into signing with Eddy. Things go awry, however, when Eddy accidentally pushes Moss off a balcony into the murky Thames, from which the supermodel fails to emerge. Accused of killing her, the two crazy old birds go on the run to the South of France, where they hatch a scheme to hit the big time again by marrying a wealthy codger.
The original Ab Fab TV show was a grown-up cartoon which skilfully combined satire and slapstick to attack the vacuousness of contemporary culture. Our obsession with celebrity at the expense of actual news was only emerging in the 90s, but has since magnificently flowered. The Kardashians don't need satirising, they're inadvertently doing it themselves, and Patsy and Eddy seem almost demure and ladylike in our relentlessly trashy age.
Ms Saunders tries to make their irrelevance a joke: there are a few tired gags about Twitter, and their bemusement about social media in general is a recurring theme. There are lots of cameos too, from Graham Norton, Barry Humphries, Dawn French, Rebel Wilson, Joan Collins, Stella McCartney, Jean-Paul Gaultier and numerous other fashion types I was not qualified to recognise. But none of that distracts you from the fact that this feels wrong, and that Eddy and Patsy shouldn't be here.
The film has a rushed, half-finished feel: lots of promising comic scenes are established only to fizzle out without a punchline. And things get worse when they go to France, and the hunt for laughs grows ever more desperate.
The chemistry between Patsy and Eddy does persist, however, and Joanna Lumley is quite superb, drawing more laughs with her hilarious mugging than anything else. She's so good as Patsy she could probably do a one-woman show, and this film would be unbearable without her.
(15A, 91mins), 2 Stars
Films coming soon...
The Legend of Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson); Maggie's Plan (Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore); The Neon Demon (Elle Fanning, Jena Malone); Now You See Me 2 (Jesse Eisenberg, Lizzy Caplan).