Growing up as an offbeat teenager, my search for role models didn't follow the usual track. Absent were the Michael Jordans and Sammy Sosas of my friends, as I had more eclectic fare to explore. On Comedy Central late one night, I happened upon a British sitcom that featured the exploits of Edina, a middle-aged PR "mogul", and her exploits of trying to remain wholly materialistic, while raising a grounded and sane daughter, Saffy, who is lightyears ahead of her mother in terms of maturity. She is joined on these adventures by Patsy, her botox-injecting, boozing, whoring, and utterly charming friend Patsy, who Saffy once described as in a state of "embalming" herself with drugs, pills, and botox. Suffice it to say, I had found my post-pubescent idols.
Happily, a few months ago, I found out that their final exploit was to me a movie-length adventure, bringing back all the beloved characters of the original show, as well as a bevy of celebrities to cameo, in true Absolutely Fabulous style. I attended the first showings in the Chicagoland area last night at the Cinearts Movie Theater in Evanston, which was a brilliant experience in itself, as the theater was gorgeous and I was even able to buy a bit of champagne to sip during the film, as a silent tribute to my two godmothers.
The film chronicles Edina's terrible mistake of pushing model Kate Bush into the River Thames, presumably killing her. Edina and Patsy escape to the south of France, taking along Saffy's 13-year-old daughter Lola, played with subtle charm and spunk by the young Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness.
Along the way we are treated to a homecoming of the shows original eccentric supporting cast. June Whitfield returns as Edina's senile mother, still retaining the perfect innocent senility that made her character a welcome respite from the outwardly-spiteful duo. Julie Sawalha shocked and moved me incredibly as daughter Saffy, not simply an extension of her younger sitcom past, but a troubled woman coming to terms with the effect her mother's lifestyle has had on her childhood and, finally, coming to true terms with it. The original show was often brought to a screeching halt by Edina's twit of a secretary, Bubble, and the movie did not change her charming, yet ingratiating, ways. Jane Horrocks is an actress who can inhabit a character that may seem like soda-pop and turn them into a comic tour-de-force, at one point even dressing up and singing as the legendary Shirley Bassey. The classy Celia Imrie as Claudia Bing,
The original show was often brought to a screeching halt by Edina's twit of a secretary, Bubble, and the movie did not change her charming, yet ingratiating, ways. Jane Horrocks is an actress who can inhabit a character that may seem like soda-pop and turn them into a comic tour-de-force, at one point even dressing up and singing as the legendary Shirley Bassey.
The classy Celia Imrie as Claudia Bing, charming newcomer to Ab Fab Chris Colfer, and the blustery, indignant, yet side-splittingly funny Kathy Burke as magazine editor Magda deserve honorable mentions among the glittery cast of true comedians.
Yet, in terms of the original supporting cast, my three favorite return in glorious technicolor to chew the scenery once again. Mo Gaffney returns as Bo, the wife of Edina's emasculated husband who is transitioning into being a woman, and her spunky, awkward, domineering presence was enough to make me squeal just by seeing her enter. Harriet Thorpe and Helen Lederer return, sadly for a very short amount of time, as Patsy's co-workers Fleur and Catriona, who tear apart my sides with just a well-placed glance and chuckle. In my opinion, these three gems alone are worth the price of admission.
There are simply too many celebrity cameos to catalog, but my favorites were undoubtedly a bevy of still gorgeous Joan Collins, Lulu (Edina's long-suffering PR client), Jon Hamm admitting to losing his virginity to Patsy, as well as the true barker of a second-long cameo as we find Dame Edna Everage floating in the hotel pool.
That, of course, leaves Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone, the two people who can best be described by quoting Niles Crane in Frasier: "Lady Macbeth without the charm." Yet, beneath the materialism and the gross disregard for their fellow humans, they are truly real deep down. This movie, more than any moment of the TV show, shows the true inner workings and motivations of these two women. Edina's yearning to be thin and Patsy's true need to find a romantic partner are explored in breathtaking detail, bringing several well-placed tears to my eyes. Saunders and Lumley prove that, despite being some 23 years older than when the show started production, they are two of the finest comediennes to grace the screen. Their physicality, timing, and breathtaking gall haven't mellowed with age, and their exploits are not those of two has-beens, but of two women who continue to evolve with the years into further echelons of fearlessness.
The movie has a fast pace, rip-roaring laughs, and a simply fantastic, streamlined plot, that allows its inhabitants to zip through without feeling lumbered down with unnecessary business. It has heart, soul, joy, and an ever-present snifter of melancholy, as Edina and Patsy's exploits are, undoubtedly, at an end.
And what a perfect end it was.
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