“Beyonce cried too, but she surrendered.”
Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley won over audiences years ago with their portrayals of Edina and Patsy, aging women tirelessly working to remain young (and fabulous), in their highly popular BBC sitcom. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is set to elaborate on their fan base as they navigate the wonderful world of fashion in an effort to evade the police and settle into a life of glitz, glam and comfort.
The film begins with a hilarious montage that, if you haven’t seen the popular 1990s sitcom that reached cult status on both sides of the Atlantic, makes you fully aware of the humor and wit that you are about to succumb to. The million-jokes-a-second approach is abrasive and a bit overwhelming, but the two stars know what they are dealing with, and they know what their fans want.
The film stars writer-creator Jennifer Saunders as Edina, an aging executive who runs a struggling public relations business, and Joanna Lumley as her best friend, Patsy. The women are absolute nightmares, triumphantly irresponsible as they pass their days downing champagne and their nights attending the most exclusive parties in town.
All the originals return for the big screen promotion, including Julia Sawalha as Saffron, Edina’s straight-laced, disapproving daughter; Jane Horrocks as Bubble, Edina’s awkwardly unusual personal assistant who wears strange outfits that no one else seems to notice; June Whitfield as Edina’s mother and Kathy Burke as Magda, Patsy’s boss. Each gets their moment to truly shine, generating laughs (both deserving and not). But none (other than Sawalha) are steady featured within the film, limiting their involvement and their effect on the overall experience, but offering up a sense of nostalgia for fans of the series.
The contradictory world of two that Saunders and Lumley have created makes for an interesting reality for Edina and Patsy. They exist in a realistic world that includes a handful of real life models, but their own existence is as far from reality as one can imagine. Saunders attempts to marry the two worlds into one, but its hard to look at both halves as ever creating a whole.
The film is at its best when the two embody the shamelessness that makes them so damn funny. We get some of it as we watch Patsy wake from an unexpected nap while sitting on the toilet to prepare for the day by injecting her lips with Botox and using a hose to give herself liposuction. But all those laughs come at the front of the film. By the time Edina accidentally pushes Kate Moss into the river at a launch party, the film has hit its peak. Their efforts to thwart the cops and live a life of comfort is half assed and quite honestly, uninspiring.
That doesn’t even account for the sharp difference between television and film. While episodic experiences allow characters to stay consistent without forcing much development, a film has a near immediate need for some level of forward movement by its characters. We like Edina and Patsy for their shallowness and lack of self awareness. We don’t want them to mature, develop and change? And as they sit sinking in the pool in Cannes, spilling their heart out to those looking on, you can’t help but feel that they both have.
Saunders has said that she was crafting the most fabulous send-off for the two infamous ladies. While the jokes weren’t as plentiful as they could have been, and the film was over-flooded with cameos that became more exhausting than exciting by the third act, she has given fans a satisfying farewell. It’s fun, it’s self aware, and it’s (at times) hilarious! While the outfits alone will prompt some chuckles, many will probably have hoped for more, but will ultimately settle for what they got: a rebound story for their two narcissistic gal pals that lets us believe that happily-ever-after is achievable by all.