AGING DISGRACEFULLY Saunders and Lumley reprise their roles as drunk,
decadent fashion victims in a big-screen add-on to the BBC comedy.
Before there was "Sex and the City," there was "Absolutely Fabulous." The BBC sitcom started as a 1990 sketch by comedy duo Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French and evolved into a chronicle of two hedonistic refugees from the Swinging '60s trying desperately to keep the party going.
Saunders plays Edina Monsoon, a publicist who lives off alimony and splits her time between swigging Champagne and bragging about famous people she's slept with. Her BFF/partner in crime is gravel-voiced, fashionably gaunt magazine editor Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), a sociopath with the charismatic swagger of Jagger. The two have virtually no redeeming characteristics, and the show's broad, dark satire leaves no room for sentiment — which is why American TV never succeeded in replicating "Ab Fab," despite several attempts in the 1990s.
Fans, of course, know all that. The show's cult may not be vast, but it is committed, and so now, four years after the last spate of episodes, we have an "Ab Fab" movie. There's no point in trying to tone down the show's outrageousness for the big screen — outrageousness is the point — and no one has tried. Directed by Mandie Fletcher (who helmed those last three episodes) and written by Saunders, the movie feels like an overlong, opened-out, star-studded episode of "Ab Fab." The structure is dodgy but the wit remains solid.
The film opens with Edina facing a financial crisis — her moneybags ex needs cash for his gender transition — that necessitates her signing a big client. Her attempt to court Kate Moss ends badly, with the supermodel tumbling into the Thames, and Edina is condemned in the mysterious (to her) court of public opinion called Twitter. She and Patsy flee to the south of France, dragging along Edina's teenage granddaughter (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) in hopes of capitalizing on her youth cachet — to the despair of her mom, the long-suffering Saffy (Julia Sawalha). And then the pair gets up to even more trouble.
The plot is just a rickety scaffolding on which to display the true gems of "Ab Fab": the dialogue and the performances. While Patsy and Edina are hopelessly shallow in their desires, they're also astute and worldly wise. Saunders packs their confabs with creatively wicked, politically incorrect takedowns and passive-aggressive malapropisms. When they mangle their Twitter lingo, it's a way of expressing contempt for the 21st century — they can't be bothered.
Viewers getting their first exposure to "Ab Fab" from the film may be waiting for the other shoe to drop and the duo to get their comeuppance — or at least to succumb to a moment of remorse. Don't hold your breath. The story's conflict resolves itself with such surreal rapidity that the ending could be a shrug directed at the fourth wall. Remorse and regrets are left to Saffy, who was always the show's dour voice of reason; perhaps the film's most poignant moment is her plea to her own daughter not to repeat the pattern of ruining her life just to spite her mother.
"Ab Fab" has its roots in the theater, and while the sun-drenched Riviera settings are fun, the characters' absurdity feels less jarring when it's penned safely in the confines of Edina's London pad. The celebrity cameos, including Rebel Wilson as a flight attendant, are mostly just distractions from Patsy and Edina's banter, and a car chase feels pointless and perfunctory.
In short, there was no good reason for this show ever to hit the big screen — except that people wanted more "Ab Fab." The movie isn't an embarrassing installment, but fans should hope it won't be the last. If today's world is a dumpster fire, as one currently popular meme suggests, Pats and Eddy should watch it burn like Nero, cackling and guzzling bubbly well into their nineties.
Official Site:www.foxsearchlight.com/absolutelyfabulous Director: Mandie Fletcher Writer: Jennifer Saunders Producer: Jon Plowman and Damian Jones Cast: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks and June Whitfield
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Margot Harrison is the Associate Editor at Seven Days; she coordinates literary and film coverage. In 2005, she won the John D. Donoghue award for arts criticism from the Vermont Press Association.