Absolutely Fabulous came onto Netflix recently and I delighted in rewatching every episode. I have been a fan of Jennifer Saunders and the show for years but don’t remember when I started watching it. I mean I was definitely too young but, considering I was 4 when it first started, I must have missed a few of the early series. What I do remember was that I fucking loved it. It was silly, over-the-top and full of great comedy performers. So it’s safe to say that I was excited about the prospect of it coming to the big screen. Although, with any situation like this there will always be some sort of trepidation. I mean the last episodes were broadcast in 2012 and people have all moved onto other things. It’s been a long time since Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley have been in the roles of Eddie and Patsy so you have to ask how it was likely to go. Also, how necessary was it after all this time? Will it be a good legacy to the show or will it just be an embarrassing throwback?
The joy of classic British sitcoms lies in the charm elicited by its low budget, small cast and small scale set-up. We don’t need glamorous sets, Hollywood beauty and implausible scenarios to prove how funny we are. We just need a camera and dingy British people and circumstances. Ab Fab perhaps benefits more because it takes place in the glitzy world of high fashion and PR. It can dare to be bigger, brighter and full of excess. It’s the kind of film where big name stars won’t feel out-of-place next to the faces that have graced our television sets for years. Still, there is still something that feels off about the whole thing.
Absolutely Fabulous the movie has the feel that a classic episode of the sitcom has about it but it all feels stretched. Plus, there are moments when the celebrity cameos just feels overwhelming. It’s the same thing we saw with Zoolander 2 and Anchorman 2 where quantity of famous faces just can’t make up for the less than great quality of the gags. The opening sequences where we crash 2 big fashion parties are reasonably funny but are more focused on people we’re seeing. Now all of them seem willing to send themselves up but it all feels unfocused and flimsy. It also fails because most of the fashion people just don’t come across comfortably on screen. Stella McCartney and Kate Moss just come across as embarrassingly wooden and it draws attention from the gags.
Still, it sets up the narrative and allows our two leads to eventually break off on their own. This is when the action really steps up a gear. After all, even in it’s more dire moments, Ab Fab has always been about the chemistry between its main players and Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley are as perfect together as they ever were. Lumley in particular is still extremely cutting and deliciously cruel as 60s throwback, Patsy Stone, whilst Saunders’ PR guru, Edina Moon, is still trying too hard to be part of the elite. Even now, some 25 years after their first on screen appearance, this pair are still capable of utterly hilarious silliness. It’s glorious to watch.
Although, to be honest, I don’t see this film really appealing to many people who haven’t watched the series. There are a few attempts to bring modern culture into play but most of the jokes rely on throwbacks and in-jokes. This in itself is funny, I certainly appreciated the call-back to one of the funniest moments in the show’s history, but I can’t see the more youthful people out there loving it quite as much. But, I don’t want to bring it down too much because, quite frankly, this film is fucking amazing. In a sea of dark and brooding Hollywood, we need Eddie and Patsy to help bring us some fun and boy do that manage it. This isn’t the cleverest, funniest or slickest film ever made but, by the standard of British sitcoms on the big screen, it’s more than enough to keep fans happy. We may live in a world where PR isn’t really a thing anymore but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for these old faces.