The biggest disappointment of this long awaited transition to the big screen is the over-emphasis on celebrity cameos at the expense of what has traditionally made the television series so hilarious, namely the nonsensical, delusional, self-absorbed behaviours of Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) and their complete inability to function in any way that remotely resembles rationality or regard for anybody other than themselves. Sure, the whole story here revolves around their efforts to avoid being held accountable for yet another calamity of their causing, but there are so many characters shoe-horned into the story that the two leading ladies never really get a chance to riff for any extended period of time. The basic premise – Edina accidentally kills supermodel Kate Moss in an attempt to secure her as a client for her PR agency – is simple enough and typical of the type of farcical fuck-up that (usually) makes Edina such a hopelessly likeable loser. The problem is that this story is really no more expansive than a typical episode of the show, so heaps of superfluous and stultifying scenarios are thrown into the mix to extend the running time to feature length.
When Edina and Patsy are together, the cluelessness they share in their assessment of themselves and their place in the world is, for the most part, very amusing. Likewise, their mean-spirited interactions with Edina’s daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha) are familiar and funny, while fans of the series will no doubt enjoy visiting all the old characters they remember, such as long-suffering personal assistant Bubble (Jane Horrocks) or Edina’s ex-husband Marshall (Christopher Ryan) and his domineering wife Bo (Mo Gaffney). It is the inclusion of so many other characters, seemingly in an effort to draw in those not familiar with the show whilst also satisfying the expectations of diehards, that eventually weighs the piece down and ultimately leaves the whole thing feeling contrived and more than a little off-kilter. Having sent Moss hurtling into the Thames, our two penniless protagonists head to the south of France to evade arrest, escape the media storm and track down one of Patsy’s ex-boyfriends who they see as a ticket to living the high-life happily ever after. With no money of their own, they co-opt Saffron’s 12-yer-old daughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) into their scheme. Despite being acutely aware just how unhinged the two women are, Lola cannot resist an opportunity for adventure.
It goes without saying that nothing goes according to plan and the sheer hopelessness of the two women makes it easy for those trying to track them down, amongst whom are singer/actress Lulu – playing herself as one of Edina’s two remaining clients – and Saffrons’s policeman boyfriend Nick (Robert Webb). The likes of Jon Hamm, Rebel Wilson, Barry Humphries, Joan Collins and Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) feature in small roles, while Glee’s Chris Colfer delivers a performance so awful that it is difficult to endure, while myriad fashion industry types such as Stella McCartney, Jerry Hall, Lily Cole and Suki Waterhouse also feature. Heck, even talk show host Graham Norton, former Spice Girl Emma Bunton and internet parasite Perez Hilton appear briefly.
Anybody who loves the BBC television series will want to love Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, but the reality is that the two are very different beasts. Yes, Jennifer Saunders is the driving force behind both, writing and serving as Executive Producer on this occasion but simply unable to consistently capture the magic that makes the television series so hilarious. The making-it-up-as-they-go sloppiness that works so well on television becomes laboured over the course of 90 minutes. Overloaded with star power when all that’s needed is the delusional Edina and Patsy delivering a barrage of caustic barbs at Saffron (a fantastic character played wonderfully well by Sawalha over the 20+ years since the show started) and others, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie tries too hard to be too many things to too many people and, as a result, has likely failed to leave any of them completely satisfied.