Blasting in with a flood of Bolly (Bollinger, their champagne of choice) nearly powerful and silly enough to blow away the post-Brexit blues, Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley give their all to “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” and drag it bitching and boozing over the fine line between ropey TV transfer and riotous night out.
The celebrity cameos alone should power it to some kind of kitsch success but there are enough funny jokes and quotable moments from Edina (Saunders) and Patsy (Lumley) that give it that botox injection to lift it well clear of recent fashionista film duds such as “Sex and the City 2” and “Zoolander 2.”
I do wonder, if anyone unfamiliar with the long-running BBC TV comedy (which premiered in 1992) walking into the movie theatre would they have a clue about what is going on? Perhaps wisely, the filmmakers haven’t haven’t bothered to improve on the overall sketchiness of the original TV show characters, but they do keep some of the recurring figures from it, such as June Whitfield as Eddy’s mother, Jane Horrocks as her PA Bubble (stealing practically every scene she’s in) and Julia Sawalha as disapproving daughter Saffy, now a mother herself, to 13-year-old Lola (newcomer Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness).
But it’s the enduring friendship between the two lead characters that benefits most from the big screen crossover, the 91 minutes running time even allowing them to develop moments of tenderness amid the champagne swilling, cigarette smoking and pill popping.
The plot concerns Eddy and Patsy having to flee London after thinking they’ve killed Kate Moss (conveniently played by Kate Moss) at a launch party, knocking the supermodel into the Thames and provoking a period of national mourning. One of the funniest gags sees the BBC’s serious Middle East reporter Orla Guerin delivering the news of the model’s demise from the impromptu riverside shrine consisting of piles Hunter wellies and bottles of Sauvignon Blanc.
Edina and Patsy flit on a budget airline to the south of France (“I can’t redecorate my way out of this one, sweetie”) and hole up in the Hotel Martinez in Cannes, seeking a rich sugar daddy for the sexually-voracious Patsy.
This isn’t a comedy too shy to try the line: “They’ll sniff me up the Croisette,” and get away with it. Indeed, it is probably one of the best “Carry On movies” never made, powered by two tearaway women unashamed of themselves or their behavior.
Although these women can feel the world they once ruled slipping away, you have to admire the way they pick themselves up — and ultimately we cheer their blissful disregard for being out of time. “I’ve been trollied on Twitter,” mumbles Edina, proudly.
With its drag queens and farcical police, its wealth and glamour, there are nods to 1960s capers along with “Some Like It Hot.” Lumley in particular excels in the later scenes in Cap Ferrat, when she dons a David Niven moustache to woo a rich woman, after the Riviera men having proved themselves too bloated and ridiculous even for Patsy.
While Edina spends much of the film trying to prove she can walk in outlandish gold stilettos without wobbling, so the film lurches from one set piece to another without much finesse but still without spilling its drink either. While it teeters into silliness — this is, after all, one of those breathless gag-a-thons where even the briefest lull needs a sip of bubbly keep the pep up — Saunders and Lumley are so wholehearted and honest in their sheer comic gusto that the viewer surrenders and remains firmly by their side.
So, the cameos? Joan Collins, Moss, Jerry Hall, Jon Hamm, Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton, Lulu, Barry Humphries, Jean Paul Gaultier just to name a few. Many others, though shrewdly-positioned for maximum TV and social media exposure, are as fleeting as their own celebrity status will be.
Rebel Wilson probably wins this little on-the-side parlor game of the cameo competition, playing the budget air stewardess, a self-styled DNB — “do nothing bitch” — who eventually faces off with Patsy in another of the film’s best jokes, one probably inspired by a legendary Moss airplane story.
Director Mandie Fletcher, a veteran of BBC TV comedy including “Blackadder,” “Ab Fab” and “Only Fools and Horses,” keeps the energy high and the pop-up appearances as light as possible. Tumbleweed moments are mercifully few which, considering the flimsiness of the premise and the woodenness of some of the contributors, is quite an achievement.
While Lumley is clearly the best actor in sight — her twisted, lemony comedy face is a marvel — in the end, the double-act carries the day, providing much-needed sunshine and laughter for the benighted and bedraggled people of Britain. Edina and Patsy are movie stars now, darlings, cementing their place as national treasures — hell, they could run for Parliament right now and romp home. I wish they would.