Sixty is the new 40, 90 is the new 70 and Jennifer Saunders’s Edina and Joanna Lumley’s Patsy are back – along with Edina’s very elderly mum, played by June Whitfield. The less-than-dynamic duo make a characteristically wobbly and hungover reappearance in heels, champagne flutes in one hand and cigarettes in the other. No nonsense about vaping.
It’s as if they showed up here through a worm-hole from the 1990s – arriving in 2016 for our summer of non-love, making a game entrance in a country where the recent referendum has caused depression in the hearts of fully 100% of those who voted. Patsy and Edina are here on an honourable mission to cheer us up - bless them. And a fair bit of the time they succeed.
It’s impossible to watch Joanna Lumley’s pursed-lip expression of disdain and suppressed nausea without laughing and the same goes for Saunders’s childlike pout of dismay and incomprehension. It’s always very funny when they have to run. Half-way through the film they make a mad and semi-logical dash to the south of France, using a budget airline. Not needing a visa was a bit of a boon.
This is a broad, silly, likably daft Britcom, made possible by the colossal commercial success of the Inbetweeners films - movies based on British TV shows can do well at the box office. It’s basically 50 minutes of material stretched out to 90 on a daisy-chain of cameos, including Christopher Biggins (of course), Judith Chalmers, Graham Norton and Barry Humphries. Orla Guerin and Jeremy Paxman make their own good-sport contributions. There are also, naturally, as in the Zoolander sequel, heavyweight walk-ons from many a fashion ledge, such as Alexa Chung, Stella McCartney and of course Kate Moss herself.
The fashion people are all absolute kryptonite to comedy of course. The film becomes less funny with every syllable that Stella is allowed to say and Kate is utterly and uncompromisingly wooden in an imperious manner that commands a kind of respect. Her recent IRL contretemps with the “basic bitch” easyJet flight attendant clearly inspired the scene here in which Patsy faces off with a dead-eyed budget airline stewardess played, inevitably, by Rebel Wilson.
The situation is that Patsy and Edina are in a jam. Eddie’s handsome West London home may have to be relinquished due to financial embarrassments and Edina does not have any of what Patsy vaguely calls “hand money”. Saffy (Julia Sawalha) still lives with them, and she has a teenage daughter by an ex-partner that our unscrupulous heroines try to exploit for fashion purposes.
And in 2016, no one cares about PR any more. It no longer has the cachet it once had. And poor Edina has yet to grasp that in the world of Instagram and Twitter people are increasingly doing their own PR. Edina is stuck with a dismal client list that is confined to Lulu and Baby Spice (cameos, naturally) and a “boutique vodka”.
Their ultimate crisis arrives on attending a party where Kate Moss is to be found, chatting to Jon Hamm. Patsy makes a leering approach to Hamm, who looks at her blankly and then flinches when he remembers how they first met: “You took my virginity, leave me my sanity...” he whimpers. But there is a catastrophe involving Kate Moss and Edina and Patsy have to go on the run.
Basically, Joanna Lumley saves this film: she has an imperishable hauteur and comedy-charisma. She is the garden bridge that stops this film from collapsing into the Thames. You don’t need silly cameos when you’ve got Lumley. The scene at the beginning when she injects her face with Botox is a showstopper. Nicolas Winding Refn must be kicking himself he didn’t have that in his fashion horror-thriller The Neon Demon.
Absolutely Fabulous is reasonably good fun – although I would have liked to see a dramatisation of the classic Kate Moss anecdote, doing a dystopia-chic fashion shoot in a ruined building and being told by a timid assistant that the only toilets she could use were ones with no doors. Moss replied: “Well, how am I supposed to get in, then?”
• Absolutely Fabulous is released in the UK on 1 July, in the US on 22 July and in Australia on 4 August
This article was written by Peter Bradshaw, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 29th June 2016 22.46 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010