Arts

Saunders and Lumley on fine form in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

Eddy and Patsy slumming it as usual in the big-screen version of Ab Fab
Damon Smith

AT ITS peak in the mid-1990s, Absolutely Fabulous was a scalpel-sharp satire of bloated celebrity culture that lived up to the effusive self-congratulations of the title.

Joanna Lumley's distinguished career was resuscitated as a booze-soaked, chain-smoking, sex-crazed vamp, and Jennifer Saunders reaffirmed her talent as a writer of hilariously grotesque characters and impeccably tailored one-liners.

More than 20 years later, this glossy feature film directed by Mandie Fletcher has lost some of the brand's lustre, exemplified by lead characters whose morning regime includes Botox injections, DIY liposuction and a generous smear of self-delusion.

There are more fleeting A-list cameos than side-splitting guffaws and some of the gossamer-thin plot threads dangle pointlessly in the wind.

Thankfully, on-screen rapport between the central double-act still sparkles like freshly uncorked Champagne and the script boasts vignettes of comic genius including a turbulent showdown between Lumley's lush and Rebel Wilson as a ballsy budget airline stewardess.

Life is tough for PR doyenne Edina Monsoon (Saunders). Her client list has thinned to Lulu and Emma Bunton and she continues to clash with strait-laced daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha), who struggles to protect her 13-year-old daughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) from Edina's negative influence.

To add insult to injury, Edina's lucrative book deal for her memoir collapses when an editor (Mark Gatiss) points out that she has nothing to say.

"I put Sting in a rainforest, I put Bono behind yellow glasses," splutters Edina, "I gave celebrities Aids!"

Thankfully, best friend Patsy Stone (Lumley) is in the media eye and her magazine is sponsoring a lavish party for enigmatic designer Huki Muki (Janette Tough).

Kate Moss, who is between publicists, is due to attend the soiree and Edina vows to add the supermodel to her dwindling client roster before arch rival Claudia Bing (Celia Imrie).

This hare-brained scheme goes tragically awry and the fashion world points the finger of blame for Kate Moss' demise at Edina and Patsy.

"Manslaughter charges might be brought," confirms a detective (Robert Webb), who is dating Saffy.

When ditzy secretary Bubble (Jane Horrocks) vanishes too, Edina and Patsy flee to the Cote d'Azur to snag wealthy husbands.

"Living well is the best revenge," affirms Patsy with a lipstick-smeared grin.

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie trades heavily on nostalgia and Saunders merrily shoehorns familiar faces from the TV series into her ramshackle plot including Edina's mother (June Whitfield) and ferocious magazine editor Magda (Kathy Burke).

Some gags fall horribly flat but there are also well-placed pokes in the ribs for current fads, like when Edina sighs, "Can you be quiet, darling, I'm trying to do my mindlessness."

Sawalha is the emotional heart of the film, leading to unexpected mother-daughter bonding that threatens to test the cast's and the target audience's waterproof mascara.

ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE (15, 91 mins) Comedy/Romance/Action. Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks, Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness, Robert Webb, June Whitfield, Kathy Burke, Celia Imrie, Mark Gatiss, Janette Tough. Director: Mandie Fletcher

RATING: THREE STARS

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