BY JOHN PAUL KING | When reviewing the latest entry in a popular movie franchise, such as the “Star Wars” saga or the various offerings from the Marvel “Universe,” a critic is faced with a serious dilemma. Should the usual tools of film criticism- principles of cinematic theory, analysis of script and direction, interpretation of thematic elements, and so on- even be applied?
Or are we to accept that these movies are instead designed to satisfy the specific criteria of their legions of fans? Although it’s not exactly “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” or “Captain America: Civil War,” “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” presents the same challenge.
As anyone reading this is likely to know, “AbFab” (as it has been lovingly abbreviated by its fans) is a BBC cult comedy series following the misadventures of P.R. guru (and wannabe fashionista) Edina “Eddy” Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and her best chum, fashion editor and perennial party monster Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley).
These two self-absorbed, socially inept, politically incorrect survivors- or more accurately, relics- of “swinging” sixties London have spent more than two decades pursuing one ludicrous scheme after another- and delighting their (mostly gay) audiences by simultaneously skewering and celebrating the absurd whirlwind of popular culture.
Now this whole crazy circus has finally made its long-anticipated leap to the big screen, with a story that owes as much to the farcical cinema of Eddy and Patsy’s sixties heyday as it does to the “new/now/next” world of the show itself.
Having hit rock bottom (yet again) in her career, Eddy is feeling irrelevant. When Patsy lucks onto an insider tip that supermodel Kate Moss is seeking a new P.R. rep, it looks like a chance to help her friend regain her mojo. The two women hatch a plan- but, as usual, things don’t go smoothly, and Moss ends up in the Thames, presumably drowned.
The pair is soon on the run from the law, fleeing to the South of France with one last-ditch strategy to achieve the glamorous life of leisure for which they have always thirsted.
As penned by Saunders, the series’ star (and co-creator, with former comedy partner Dawn French), the “AbFab” movie follows the same formula as most of the small-screen episodes- which means the plot is little more than a wispy premise upon which to drape a wickedly irreverent blend of satire and slapstick.
Essentially, it’s an extra-long installment of more-of-the-same, with Eddy and Patsy stumbling through an over-inflated crisis of their own creation and lampooning the world of fame, fortune and fashion.
They are accompanied, of course, by such long-suffering bystanders as Eddy’s uptight daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha), dotty assistant Bubble (Jane Horrocks), coyly subversive mother (June Whitfield), and a host of other returning faces from the show’s long run. To spice things up, there are also some new characters- like Eddy’s uber-gay stylist Christopher (Chris Colfer, from “Glee”) and Saffy’s daughter Lola (the gorgeous Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness)- as well as a sea of celebrities doing good-natured cameos in which they spoof their own personas.
Yes, it’s all constructed around a now-familiar formula, and no, none of the characters seem to have changed or grown throughout their twenty-plus years of madness-on-a-loop. That is, of course, entirely appropriate.
Nobody needs a softer, wiser version of these two champagne-guzzling anti-heroines, nor a mellower Saffy, nor a smarter Bubble.
So Saunders and director Mandie Fletcher have shrewdly delivered the movie that any “AbFab” follower might expect, and their only concession to the new format is that they spend a lot more screen time taking advantage of gorgeous location scenery in London and on the timelessly elegant French Riviera.
This means that “AbFab: The Movie” is not exactly a stand-alone experience. Anyone unfamiliar with its endearingly awful characters and their terrible behavior will probably find much of it going over their head.
The dialogue is characteristically rapid-fire, many of the cultural and celebrity references are specifically British, and there are some regional dialects which will be an obstacle for the uninitiated. On the other hand, Saunders and Lumley- whose interplay is always a sheer delight- lead a cast which is clearly having a blast; their sheer enjoyment is infectious, and even those who have never seen an episode of the TV show might find it hard to resist.
Ultimately, though, this movie is blatantly, unapologetically, for the fans. Fortunately, I count myself among their number, so I enjoyed every second of it. I also appreciated its many subtle references to the comic cinema of the past; any movie that caps itself with a nod to one of the greatest film comedies of all time is okay in my book. So yes, I highly recommend “AbFab: The Movie.”
To borrow a phrase from Patsy, “don’t question me!” After all, I’m a film critic, sweetie.