On-screen and off, the TV-to-film adaptation of this beloved British sitcom contemplates the topic of relevance.
Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Crafting a film's narrative around the feature's own major issue can be a blessing and a curse. For a small-to-big screen adaptation, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, serving up a cinematic installment of the British television sitcom – that first aired in 1992 – was always going to inspire a question of relevance. Star/writer Jennifer Saunders (Minions) and director Mandie Fletcher (TV's In and Out of the Kitchen) pre-empts this line of thinking by forcing Absolutely Fabulous' pampered, preening, Bolly-swilling, label-chasing protagonists to wonder the same. In its story and its existence alike, the film ponders whether Edina Monsoon (Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley, Me Before You) still have a place.
As the characters' fictional adventures continue, this query bubbles up in a manner that fans of the TV show will be familiar with. Once more, the duo clamour for attention within the entertainment and fashion industries. With singer Lulu and former Spice Girl Emma Bunton among her only remaining publicity clients, and her diminishing bank balance unable to finance the life she has become accustomed to, Edina decides to focus her efforts on signing Kate Moss. Alas, every step she takes proves far from smooth: when Patsy advises that the high-profile model is without representation, she broadcasts the call via speakerphone to her professional nemesis; when she orchestrates an opportunity to approach Moss at a party, she accidentally pushes her into the Thames and is branded a suspected murderer by the media.
The celebrity cameos that fill the screen up to this point – including designer Stella McCartney and actors Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) – might fit in with the world Absolutely Fabulous' central duo inhabit; however they're also emblematic of the movie's off-screen struggle with purpose. Though interspersed with brief appearances by Edina's dotty mother (June Whitfield, You, Me and the Apocalypse) put-upon adult daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha, Remember Me) teenage granddaughter Lola (debutant Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) and bumbling assistant Bubble (Jane Horrocks, Trollied) all compiled in a light, breezy, and always-knowing fashion. The parade of recognisable faces doesn't simply reinforce the superficial realm the film dwells in, or evoke a few easy laughs, but strives to stress its modern-day significance.
Accordingly, Saunders and Fletcher attempt to style their efforts as an extended episode with big names, as well as broader humour and interest, but, as countless other television-to-movie transitions have proven, that's a difficult task. Rallying about not wanting to get old and fat in-character as Edina and continuing to skewer society's obsession with youth and beauty with the film in general, Saunders certainly hasn't lost her comic or satirical savvy – or her ability to make a statement. Trying to flesh out a scant story to feature length, enticing both seasoned fans and newcomers, and a nod to the series' past while including up-to-date reference; Saunders' script too-often reverts to dangling something shiny, famous and obvious in front of viewers.
Of course, while Fletcher's filmmaking style simply adds more gloss to Absolutely Fabulous' small-screen look, the narrative never veers from the expected path – even when it takes a detour to Cannes – the true appeal of the movie resides in spending more time with its main players.
There are a number of reasons that audiences have warmed to their outrageous, narcissistic, opportunistic and socially oblivious antics over the course of the last quarter of a century, though Saunders and Lumley's on-screen portrayals remain chief among them. While the latter steals every scene, partially through being gifted the best material and partially as a result of her stellar delivery, their double act never falters, even if the same can't be said for the film around them. Little else about Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie may justify its existence or demonstrate its relevance, but reuniting its leads with viewers does enough.
Rating: 2 ½ stars out of 5
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
Director: Mandie Fletcher
UK | USA, 2016, 91 mins
Release date: 4 August 2016