Blasting in with a deluge of Bolly nearly heady and silly enough to blow away the Brexit blues, Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley drag Ab Fab the Movie*** bitching and boozing over the fine line between ropey TV transfer and riotously camp night out at the cinema.
The well-oiled publicity machine behind the film – a far more effective outfit than anything run by Edina Monsoon – kept the film under wraps (or in net a porter bags) until the premiere, forcing critics to attend the big night in Leicester Square along with Kylie Minogue, Kate Moss and the Krankies, along with oodles of free champagne.
The critical world awoke to find it had, in the main, filed positive and peppy reviews and perhaps is wondering what on earth happened, a feeling of: “I really didn’t need that last glass of fizz, and why on earth did I sleep with this movie…”
Because Ab Fab is a rickety old vehicle in the worst traditions of the British sit-com-to-big-screen journey. But there are plenty of decent gags and quotable moments that give it a botox injection to lift it well clear of recent movie fashion disasters such as Sex and the City 2 and Zoolander 2 and into the realms of cult drinking game movie campery.
Perhaps wisely, the film makers haven’t bothered to deepen the overall sketchiness of the TV show (first aired in 1992) but do keep recurring characters such as June Whitfield as Eddy’s Mother, Jane Horrocks as Bubble her PA (stealing practically every shot 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 leads that benefits most from the big screen, the 91 minute running time even allowing them to develop moments of tenderness amid the champagne swilling, fag lighting and pill popping.
The plot concerns Eddy and Patsy having to flee London after thinking they’ve killed Kate Moss at a fashion 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 white wine.
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 and to fund their new fugitive lifestyle.
Although these women can feel the world they once ruled slipping away, you have to admire the way they clack themselves out of it 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 smut and glamour, there are nods to the Carry Ons, 1960s capers as well as 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.
While Edina proves she can walk in outlandish gold stilettos without wobbling, this could be a metaphor for the film itself. But Saunders and Lumley are so game and so honest in their sheer comic gusto that the viewer surrenders and remains firmly on their side.
As for the cameos? Joan Collins, Rebel Wilson, Jerry Hall, Jon Hamm, Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton, Lulu, Barry Humphries, Jean Paul Gaultier are just a few. Many others are as fleeting as their own celebrity status will be.
Moss herself can’t act but she doesn’t give a monkey’s, which makes her all the more brilliant and cool and a little bit of that Kate attitude and stardust rubs off on the whole movie, like one of those stray bits of glitter that somehow always stay on a kissed cheek.
Tumbleweed moments are mercifully few which, considering the flimsiness of the premise and the woodenness of some of the contributors, is quite some achievement for the director Mandie Fletcher.
While Lumley is clearly the best actor in sight – her twisted comedy face is a marvel and I’d love to see her Patsy get a BAFTA – in the end, the double-act carries the day. Patsy’s leggy stillness and Edina’s prat falling heft make them the Laurel and Hardy de nos jours, providing much-needed sunshine and laughter for a benighted and bedraggled Britain. Edina and Patsy aren’t just national treasures, darling, they’re movie stars now…Lord help us all.