For many, the Absolutely Fabulous Eddie and Patsy are like lovable, Champagne-swilling aunties whose lives you dip into once every five years when you need cheering up.
But for die hard fans, they’re cultural goddesses. To be quoted on a daily basis. You little bitch troll from hell.
If, like us, you live for series one to three of Jennifer Saunders’ seminal sitcom but have conflicting feelings about the rest, you’ll understand why the hotly-anticipated spin-off film was never going to be a trip to Harrods.
We needed three glasses of Bolli just to calm our nerves ahead of last night’s London screening, and about three more this morning before checking the reviews (especially given the mauling of Saunders’ book for Viva Forever! in 2012).
But critical reception has so far been favorable, and rightly so. This mile-a-minute comedy – which sees the gruesome twosome flee to Cannes after accidentally killing Kate Moss – seems perfectly timed to make the world smile post-Brexit.
But it’s not perfect. Then again, it was never going to be, was it?
We’ll focus on some positives first. Almost three decades later, the chemistry between the leads is still razor sharp. Saunders as ageing PR guru Eddie is a force of nature, while the flawless Joanna Lumley is acidly funny as always as fashion tyrant and barely-functioning addict Patsy.
In fact, it’s fair to say Lumley carries Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. Her physical humour generates the most belly laughs, particularly her grotesque seduction techniques (think Regan from The Exorcist) and her incensed, demonic facial expressions, now directly mostly at Saffy’s super cool granddaughter and ‘youth patch’ Lola than Saffy herself.
The only problem is the occasionally misjudged material she’s given, including a bizarre scene with John Hamm in which it’s implied Patsy took his virginity at 15. Really?
Far be it from us to be emotional yo-yos about it, but this wasn’t the only moment in the film that had us cringing.
One random narrative strand sees Edina’s detested ex-husband Marshall transition a la Caitlyn Jenner, and the cheap and obvious jokes come thick and fast. One line from Saunders on the subject is actually shockingly misjudged. Trans viewers should proceed with caution.
It’s a real disappointment, especially given the more sophisticated humour deployed elsewhere when Patsy (who Joanna Lumley recently described as transgender) blurs gender lines in pursuit of a rich suitor.
Things get back on track with the welcome return of Kathy Burke as tyrannical magazine editor Magda, whose bullishly-cockney accent is like music to our ears (look out for a member of Team GSN as one of her terrified minions!).
A 90-year-old June Whitfield is marvellous as Gran, and Jane Horrocks steps into the absurd shoes of Bubble with more flamboyance than ever, and gets to evolve her character in some unexpected directions.
But both feel underused to make room for an endless list of celebrity cameos to rival 1997’s Spiceworld. Indeed, Emma ‘Baby’ Bunton leads the charge as one of Ed’s only remaining clients, as well as Lulu, whose hatred of her PR after Kate Moss-gate sees her frequently lapse onto an angry, aggressive Scottish accent. She all but steals the film.
Graham Norton, Christopher Biggins, Mark Gatiss, Jean Paul Gaultier, Perez Hilton, Barrie Humphries and Rylan Clarke are just of the gays who gamely crop up elsewhere with various success.
But when Nick Grimshaw slimes his way into a fantasy sequence in which Eddie hangs out with some of the world’s most glamorous supermodels, Saunders’ eye for cultural satire feels as spot on as ever.
We have our gripes with it, and there are a couple of scenes we’d like eradicated from memory, but there’s plenty about Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie to love – and like the 20th anniversary specials before it, it whets our appetite for more.
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie is in UK cinemas tomorrow and US cinemas on 22 July.
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