Transitioning from the bronze to the silver screen is an arduous journey fraught with obstacles and booby traps. (Sometimes the booby traps are actual boobies.) Far too often, in an effort to appease moviegoers’ different expectations and take advantage of bigger budgets, larger productions and more relaxed censorship, movies based on beloved television shows are so far removed from the original as to obliterate the essence of the series. Anyone who has seen the movie versions of Sex and the City, Dukes of Hazzard and Entourage will certainly agree they paled in comparison to their television selves, though, to be fair, Entourage wasn’t exactly the tops when it was on the small screen.
Happily, this is not the case with Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. The film, which stars original stars Jennifer Saunders as Edina Monsoon and Joanna Lumley as Patsy Stone, is every bit as fun, insane, camp and downright hilarious as the series that debuted on BBC in 1992, ran for three years and was sporadically revived in TV films and special features over the next two decades. From the very first scene, the duo brings their oddly charming depravity full force with few real surprises. The pair exhibits utter disregard for the opinions, conventions and wants of others, particularly garish, crass Edina, who, in a similar vein as Hyacinth Bucket on another classic BBC comedy, Keeping Up Appearances, is delightfully oblivious to how much she is disliked by so many of her “friends,” even when those same friends go out of their way to insult and avoid her.
In the film, as in the series, Saunders – who wrote and created both versions of Ab Fab – as Edina is a boozy, self-absorbed PR agent still trying to cling to youth in late middle age; Lumley plays her debaucherous bestie, Patsy, a magazine editor with an astonishingly high tolerance for intoxicants, which, for Patsy, seemingly includes highly poisonous substances. The pair are, as ever, ably backed up by original castmates Julia Sawalha as Saffron Monsoon, Edina’s dowdy, buzzkilling daughter, June Whitfield as Edina’s ditzy mother, and Jane Horrocks as Bubble, Edina’s scatterbrained, cartoonish assistant. New addition Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness, who plays Saffron’s tween daughter, rounds out the main cast and gives them fresh material to play off. Chris Colfer of Glee fame, who plays Edina’s friend and stylist, also infuses new life; his relationship with Patsy is both surprising and funny.
Though just 90 minutes, the film packs in 60 celebrity cameos by the likes of Jerry Hall, Jon Hamm, Stella McCartney, Rebel Wilson and Perez Hilton, many as themselves. Both McCartney and Hall bravely – and hysterically – play themselves as Edina’s hell-bent mortal enemy and an exceptionally dull, camera-happy celebrity, respectively. Memorably, the film also includes a scene involving dozens of drag queens and Sawalha, which gives Saffron just the right touch of softness and artistry the series rarely, if ever, hinted at.
The film, like the series, offers a decidedly British take on the genre of comedic best friend romp cinema. Unlike many films featuring two adults in a close, borderline obsessive, platonic relationship, refreshingly never implies that the bond between Patsy and Edina is anything other than positive. It’s a safe bet that very few who have seen an episode of Ab Fab would say that the series has much depth, and the film happily stays true to that, but their deeply abiding affection for one another is actually quite moving, even as they drink, swear, snort, smoke and create chaos everywhere they go. Prepare to be shocked, even a touch horrified, by the bizarre lengths to which they will go to look younger, get wasted and generally go through life as the wonderfully narcissistic letches that the characters are.
Ab Fab is not for everyone. But then again it never was.