The old comedy padded out with celebrity cameos and a trip to the French Riviera. Eddie and Patsy are back and as outrageous as ever; an enjoyable watch for fans.
Absolutely Fabulous, the long running, BAFTA award winning television series evolved from a 1990 French and Saunders sketch. Skip forward 26 years and here we have Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. It feels like Eddie (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) have hardly been away, helped by three Christmas specials in 2012 marking the 20th anniversary of the show’s first broadcast. Fans were reassured that their favourite high-powered, highly intoxicated women of the London fashion scene had stood the test of time, but could the chaotic comedy be transferred into success on the big screen?
Judging by other British sitcoms made into films recently such as Dad’s Army, I was sceptical. As a big fan of the show the prospect of a feature length film falling flat was a real fear. The trailer and intensive media coverage in the lead up to its opening weekend had already revealed that it had followed the conventional path of relying on an array of celebrity cameos and had headed abroad (The French Riviera). As much as I was quietly hopeful for the film to live up to its title, my expectations weren’t staggeringly high.
The film follows Eddie desperately seeking to revive her dwindling career; once Patsy overhears that Kate Moss is without a PR, Eddie naturally sees herself suitable for the role. Eddie and Patsy flee to the French Riviera after Eddie pushes Kate Moss into the River Thames.
As expected, celebrity cameos are relied on heavily- far too heavily. There are so many that at times it became almost overwhelming. Although somewhat fitting of Eddie’s dream world of top models and fashionistas, the performances from the likes of Kate Moss were unsurprisingly wooden. That’s not to say that all the famous faces were a disappointment; Rebel Wilson as the air hostess on a budget airline was a total joy. The scene echoed one of my all-time favourite scene from the television series, where Eddie and Patsy are led to believe they’ve hit hard times and take a visit to the supermarket instead of living off a Harrods delivery. Seeing the pair on a budget airline is a far cry from their usual luxury and it’s entertaining to see them struggling to cope with how the other half live.
The relationship between Eddie and her daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha) has always been dysfunctional as the ultimate role reversal pair. But at times throughout the film the love and affection Eddie genuinely feels towards her long suffering daughter in evident. There is one particular scene towards the end which, amongst all the disorder, slows down the pace and feels profoundly out of character for the usually self-absorbed, neglectful mother. This is an element which, if it had been delved into deeper, would have perhaps given a stronger sense of purpose and poignancy to the film.
Giving credit where credit’s due, the original cast gave entertaining performances with Lumley and Saunders going some way to overshadow the cameos. Saunders’ writing rarely fails to deliver clever punch lines, most of which go to Lumley’s Patsy, a character who has not mellowed with age (of course she’s still 39). She’s as witty as ever and still treats the total existence of Eddie’s daughter as one enormous inconvenience. The iconic characters, loved by many fans seem unchanged all these years later in their big screen debut and provide fans with an air of nostalgia.
Aware of the need for a bit of an update, Saunders has Patsy swiping through tinder in the back of a black cab and assistant, Bubble (Jane Harrocks) dressed in hashtags- two modern twists that perfectly fit the characters but may have been lost on older fans. In addition, transgender issues were touched on; Patsy’s past has always been something of a mystery with suggestions of a sex change in the series being talked about but not really explored. The film follows a similar suit as a moustached Patsy marries the world’s richest woman (but later confesses to actually being a man) in order to fulfil Eddie and Patsy’s lavish lifestyle.
Old in-jokes were relied on a lot which would have perhaps appealed to fans of the show but even fans would be looking for richer new material. In a recent interview Lumley suggested she would like to see Patsy “losing her marbles” if the show was to be revived in the future. A change may have been an interesting development of the film but overall it has left an overwhelming feeling that if the duo bring back their characters even one more time, there’s a high chance it’ll feel like one time too many.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie does feel a lot like a 30 minute episode padded out with, at times, irritating cameos as well as the change of location to the South of France. While it felt good to catch up with the original cast, the material may have been better suited to another Christmas special. However, my fears of the film falling so flat and ruining my fond memories of the series in its heydays didn’t come true; Eddie and Patsy are still absolutely fabulous, sweetie.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016), directed by Mandie Fletcher, is distributed by 20th Century Fox, certificate 15.