Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (Fox Searchlight Pictures, R)

I would have enjoyed it a lot more had the joke to filler ratio been higher.

ab fab

The British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous (Ab Fab to its friends) is based on a simple premise: grownup ladies behaving badly and getting away with it. The stars, Edina “Eddy” Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders, who also created and wrote the show) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), do everything on screen that most people (especially women) are expected to leave behind or at least moderate when they grow up, including drinking and drugging to excess and saying whatever is on their mind at the moment. Equally important, Eddy and Patsy’s friendship is rock solid, and despite sometimes questionable work habits they both manage to survive in the brutally competitive world of fashion (Eddy runs a PR firm, Patsy works for a fashion magazine).

Given the cult popularity of Ab Fab (the show enjoyed several runs on television, starting in 1992) and its stars, it’s somewhat surprising that it took this long for the series to make its big-screen debut, as Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. The story line, such as it is, involves Eddy and Patsy trying to get their mojo back—as the movie starts, they’re broke, what could be less fabulous than that? First Eddy tries publishing her memoirs, only to receive the following critique from a book editor (Mark Gatiss): “Your life may be worth living, but it’s not worth reading.” Then Eddy hears that Kate Moss is changing representation, and determines to land her as a client. Being Eddy, it’s no surprise that she only succeeds in pushing Kate into the Thames (one among many slapstick moments in this movie), to her apparent death.

To escape the police and the paparazzi, Eddy and Patsy flee to sunny Cannes, where they hope to acquire funds the old-fashioned way—by marrying a rich old geezer and waiting for him to croak. Stuff happens, but none of it really matters—the story serves as an excuse to deliver zingers (of which there are many) and pratfalls, along with an amazing number of celebrity cameos. Jon Hamm has one of the best bits, as a long-ago ex of Patsy’s; Chris Colfer gets several scenes as an over-the-top stylist; Rebel Wilson has a funny bit as a flight attendant; and Gwendolyn Christie gets to show her more glamorous side (you may know her as “Brienne of Tarth” in Game of Thrones). Other celebs who pop up include ‘60s pop star, Lulu, “Baby Spice” Emma Bunton, designer Jean Paul Gaultier, Barry Humphries (as Dame Edna and more), and television and radio host Graham Norton.

Several series regulars reprise their roles in the movie: Julia Sawalha plays Eddy’s utterly conventional daughter Saffron (“Saffy”); June Whitfield plays Eddy’s mother (who is billed as “Mother”), who has a knack for inserting herself into situations; Jane Horrock plays Bubble, Eddy’s loopy personal assistant; and Kathy Burke plays Patsy’s businesslike editor, Magda. Saffy now has a daughter, Lola (the charming Indeyama Donaldson-Holness), who has inherited the nerve of her grandmother and the common sense of her mother.

I wouldn’t have missed Absolutely Fabulous for the world, being a fan of both the original show and of the general concept of women behaving badly and getting away with it. There are some great laughs in this movie and some inspired settings, including a scene set in a drag club, where Saffy unexpectedly charms everyone with a rendition of Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen.” But even that scene is not as effective as it could be—it’s cut into two segments, both of which feel rushed, and neither of which really capitalizes on the visual potential of the setting. Overall, I’d say I enjoyed this movie, but I would have enjoyed it a lot more had the joke to filler ratio been higher.

It’s also the case that, as a movie Absolutely Fabulous feels a lot like one of those 90-minute specials that British television shows like to bring out around Christmas time (perhaps not a coincidence, since most of director Mandie Fletcher’s experience is in television). Fans of the television show won’t mind, but people who are new to the characters and premise may feel cheated. And that’s pretty much the case with the entire movie: fans of the television version of Ab Fab will love it, but it probably won’t win many new converts. | Sarah Boslaugh

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