Bringing Sketchy Back; Film of the weekJennifer Saunders Unleashes Some Zingers and No One Sneers like Joanna Lumley -- but Ab Fab Has Never Been More Than a Skit

The Evening Standard (London, England), July 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Bringing Sketchy Back; Film of the weekJennifer Saunders Unleashes Some Zingers and No One Sneers like Joanna Lumley -- but Ab Fab Has Never Been More Than a Skit


Byline: David Sexton

ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS -- THE MOVIE Cert 15, 91 mins TIME marches on. The first series of Absolutely Fabulous was broadcast in 1992, nearly a quarter of a century ago. What are you going to do? Ignore it of course! Carry on regardless.

If the Dad's Army film showed how not to do it (recast and reinvent), Ab Fab does the opposite. Everybody's back, everybody's blasting on, just as before, older, fatter (although not Patsy, obviously), crasser and sometimes even funnier.

Jennifer Saunders, who takes sole responsibility for the script, and her team (director Mandie Fletcher's credits include Blackadder and Only Fools and Horses) haven't even really tried to turn this outing into one of those, you know, film things -- it's a sketch, as it always was, barely even a sitcom, here a sketch stretched out to its absolute limit at 91 minutes.

Funnily enough, though, that expansion works out a lot better than the jumbled freneticism of the trailer would lead you to expect. Trailers try to cherry-pick but sometimes they just mash up further what's already enough of a mash-up.

So Eddy and Patsy appear blind drunk, ludicrously dressed, tumbling out of their limo, as they arrive home from some Fashion Week absurdity, to be confronted once more by the reproving Saffy in pyjamas ( Julia Sawalha, 47 now, no less a sourpuss) accompanied this time by her 13-year-old daughter, also in pyjamas (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness, bright and sulky, there to bring some unequivocal youth into the scenario but never very purposefully used).

Next morning, with Eddy and Patsy hungover to hell, there's Bubble again ( Jane Horrocks, 52 now) dressed very correctly in a mad clown's costume that actually has inflated bubbles all over it -- and mother, or grandma, or now greatgrandma ( June Whitfield, 90), making her first appearance gliding down on a stairlift. Patsy greets the day by casually injecting her own face with Botox -- a bit of a coup, this scene -- and puffing away as per usual: "I'm vaping," she lies to the outraged Saffy.

It has never been clear how such a daffy bat as Eddy runs a business efficiently -- and now she's actually running out of money. Her cards are broken, she complains, while Patsy sarcastically asks "Haven't you got any of that" -- she can't quite remember the word for cash -- "hand money?" Eddy is doing PR at this point for Lulu, Baby Spice and "a huge boutique vodka" and that's it.

Still, she's got a book deal, she claims, and there's a nice scene at Randy Penguin where she tries to sell her memoir to Mark Gatiss, doing a choice impersonation of real-life Penguin publishing director Stuart Proffitt, who's having none of it. Eddy claims to have dictated the book to Bubble but on inspection this typescript turns out to read just "blah blah blah blah" She storms out, shouting "You only read them, you don't write them. You work in the shop!" Publishers! Just so.

Then Eddy hears that Kate Moss needs a new PR and dreams of being begged to represent her and becoming the darling of all the hottest young things in fashion (the film is padded out with lots of such fantasy sequences). At a fashion launch (masterminded by an abusive bulldozer of a magazine editor, the great Kathy Burke), she moves in on Kate Moss.

First her wingman Patsy detaches her target from Jon Hamm by reminding him of their previous encounter. He has some difficulty placing her. "Oh god! I was 15," he says finally, in shock. "A very big 15," she snickers. "You're still alive," he says, whimpering, "You took my virginity please leave me my sanity. …

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