I can confess that as I stepped into the cinema to watch Jennifer Saunders' Absolute Fabulous: The Movie, I hadn't seen a single minute of the television show that was now making the transition to big screen. It has earned cult status since its premiere in 1992 and, despite not airing a full season for over a decade, has continued to hold quite the legacy thanks to several repeats and the continued popularity of its two leads - Saunders and Joanna Lumley. Depending on who you ask and to what regard they hold the series in, the film's big screen outing has received mixed review, but how about from someone watching the film as an original property?
The film centres on Edina Monsoon (Saunders) and Patsy Stones (Lumley) who are forced to go on the run after Kate Moss, who they approached for a PR gig, falls off a yacht and goes missing, with all heads turning to the pair being responsible for her believed death. From there, they must go on the run to continue to fund their luxurious lifestyle and escape the police, all while upsetting the Monsoon family and bringing disgrace to their brand. The original cast all return (such as Julia Sawalha, June Whitfield, Jane Horrocks, Kathy Burke and Celia Imrie), alongside a plethora of celebrity guest cameos. With so many names taking part in the film, surely it can't be that bad?
It's the abundance of stars (or C-Listers that partially-qualify) that helps move the action and film along at a relatively snappy pace. It's slender 91 minute runtime prevents the film feeling over bloated or unnecessarily inflated and the number of recognisable faces also speeds proceedings along and creates a mad game of 'how many faces can you name' - I looked on Wikipedia after and we are looking at, at the very least, four dozen. Some of the more successful appearances come from the likes of Rebel Wilson, Dawn French and Gwendoline Christie, and whether you can name them or not, the sheer number of appearances reinforces the world of prestige and sophistication that Patsy and Edina are renown for.
Despite the profusion of cameos, this is still Saunders and Lumley's show. Both are great, fun and refuse to take themselves too seriously, but Lumley steals the show; she brings a multitude of zest and excitement to the role that can help distract from the clunky material. They have such a flourishing dynamic that it is often the moments where only the two feature that works the best. That said, Sawalha handles the more emotional aspect of the film relatively well and helps make the moment in which she karaokes with a room full of drag queens even more humourous while Whitfiled is sorely underused and nothing short of a giggle in each of her appearances scattered unevenly throughout the film. Imrie is another one that could be further developed, and while I do not know her usage and character throughout the television series, I feel so much more could be achieved with her, after she seemingly disappears following the first act of the film.
Performances aside, I'm not entirely convinced the move from small screen to big screen was worth it. The narrative is very thin and seems to simply act as a vehicle to alternate between set pieces and locations and an excuse to visit the South of France (which admittedly allows some beautiful shots of the stunning area). What it lacks in plot, it struggle in terms of comedy, as although I will admit I did chuckle a few times and I was smiling throughout, its pretty much absent of the real belly-laughs I was really hoping for. Comedy is such a subjective and divisive genre and what works for some, won't for others (that's completely okay - I loved The Boss and others hated it) but I really hoped this would pull it out the bag; I had no idea of the 'type' of humour AbFab was - down to my own ignorance, more than likely - but the film hasn't convinced me to give the series a try unfortunately.
Don't get me wrong, Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is watchable, and in places, enjoyable film. You cannot argue that is is entertaining but a film perhaps suited to a made-for-television release opposed to a theatrical run (similar to last year's The Lady in The Van, although I look back on that film feeling that I was too harsh in my judgement and I have warmed to it on successive viewings). I'm sure it will please fans seeing Edina and Patsy back together but I'm unsure whether it was needed or executed to the best of its ability, knowing the talent involved, if not the series or characters. Maybe this would be better on television, in the form of a few specials, as it doesn't quite warrant a cinema visit to the non-fans (but hey, we should always try and support our British Film industry so I won't promote my opinion too loudly).
Summary: Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is watchable and, in places, enjoyable thanks to the solid cast performances and cameos that come in abundance, but lacks the humour and necessity to drive the television series to the big screen in the first place.
Highlight: Rebel Wilson's cameo was the best of the bunch (but maybe just because I am a fan) and Lumley is nothing but a chuckle throughout, really throwing herself into it.