'Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie': Film Review

An endearing shambles, much like the original show.

Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders are back as Patsy and Edina, growing old disgracefully and accidentally knocking Kate Moss in the Thames, in this adaptation of the classic British sitcom.

There's a surprisingly touching moment at the end of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie where Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders), thinking she is about to drown in a sinking fish-delivery vehicle in a Riviera swimming pool (don't ask), confesses that all she ever wanted in life was "to not be fat and keep the party going." Like so many of us, Edina may be a tiny smidge heavier than she used to be, but she and the makers of this hot, lovable mess of a film can still throw a bash that all the right people will want to attend. Stuffed to its statement earrings with celebrities, fashion folk and comedian chums making cameos, this breezy blast of bawdy jokes and Bollinger product placement should lift spirits in a post-Brexit Britain and earn a considerable pile of devalued sterling along the way.

Much like the BBC-produced TV series that spawned it, Ab Fab: The Movie succeeds best when it lets stars Saunders and Joanna Lumley as Edina's dearest enabler Patsy stand around delivering zingers while wearing ridiculous outfits. Its touch is much less assured when it comes to the business of delivering plot. Indeed, screenwriter-star Saunders has been jocularly frank in pre-release interviews about how long it took to write the script, bashed out in just enough time to avoid losing a £10,000 bet with her long-term writing and performing partner Dawn French.

That making-it-up-as-they-go sloppiness has always been part of the Ab Fab brand's charm, but over the course of a 91-minute film the frayed seams and safety pin-fastenings are more obvious. It's telling that three editors — Anthony Boys, Gavin Buckley and Billy Sneddon — are credited here, and considering how often supporting characters in the subplots drop in and out of focus in the last act, one can only imagine what kind of carnage there was in the editing suite. But never mind, darlings, there are gorgeous drag artists in the Vauxhall Tavern weeping as Edina's daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha) sings Janis Ian's "At Seventeen," Jon Hamm (playing himself) confessing he lost his virginity to Patsy and Joan Collins in a series of picture hats. What's not to love?

While the last 10-episode run for the show was back in 2005, there were specials in 2012, so it's not like it's been that long since we've seen the characters. As Ab Fab: The Movie kicks off, Edina is still living in the same palatial West London house, which looks far grander than the stage-set version viewers will be used to from the TV show. It's also disconcerting to see it from angles the set never allowed for before when it was filmed in front of a live audience.

Along with the ever-present Patsy, Edina lives with her aged mother Mrs. Monsoon (June Whitfield, 90 years young this year and still going strong), a now-divorced Saffie, and Saffie's 13-year-old daughter Lola (teen model Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness), the last a new addition to the cast. Bubble (Jane Horrocks), Edina's ditzy Northern personal assistant, is also still in tow, but with Edina down to just a couple of clients for her PR firm — basically the singer Lulu and Emma Bunton, aka "Baby Spice" from the Spice Girls, both playing themselves — the menage must be difficult to support.

With the fridge out of champagne, all her credit cards "broken," and no one interested in publishing her autobiography (admittedly, after a certain point the manuscript just has the words "blah blah blah" for hundreds of pages), Edina decides that her only shot is to convince model Kate Moss, suddenly between PR reps, to retain her services. Edina hopes to use Lola as bait to get an introduction to Moss at a fashion party being thrown by Patsy for designer Huki Muki (Janette Tough, aka Janet Krankie, the diminutive Scots actor who, like so many others here, appeared in seasons past of the TV show). 

As anyone who has seen the trailer will know, things go disastrously wrong with Moss at the party, forcing Patsy and Edina to go on the run. Many in the virtual world of social-media snap judgments expressed anxiety that all the best jokes would be in that trailer, leaving nothing left to laugh at in the feature. Fortunately, those fears prove largely unfounded, although there's no denying that things do get slacker and sloppier after the party's high-water mark. It's just lucky there is such a well of good feeling toward the show from famous friends keen to buoy the proceedings with yet more cameos. When in doubt, "dazzle with star power" seems to be Saunders and director Mandie Fletcher's motto, while also observing Patsy's famous maxim that you can never have too many hats, gloves and shoes. 

Cinematographer Chris Goodger is rather liberal with the digital Vaseline on the lens, softening and flattering the features of the older actors, but that somehow just enhances the old school glamor of the proceedings. 

Production companies: A Fox Searchlight Pictures presentation in association with BBC Films of a DJ Films/Saunders & French production
Cast: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks, June Whitfield, Chris Colfer, Kate Moss, Lulu, Emma Bunton, Robert Webb, Barry Humphries, Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness
Director: Mandie Fletcher
Screenwriter: Jennifer Saunders
Producers: Damian Jones, Jon Plowman
Executive producers: Maureen Vincent, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Christine Langan, Nichola Martin, Steve Milne, Christian Eisenbeiss
Director of photography: Chris Goodger
Production designer: Harry Banks
Costume designer: Rebecca Hale
Editor: Gavin Buckley
Composer: Jake Monaco
Music supervisor: Sarah Bridge
Casting: Alex Johnson

Rated R, 91 minutes