Dir: Gabriel Aghion. France. 2001. 105 mins.
A French feature film remake of the iconic BBC TV series, Absolument Fabuleux replaces its source material's uniquely vivacious humour with hamfisted slapstick and overcooked farce. Despite many inventive touches and amusing French renderings of the series' hallmarks, it suffers acutely in the translation. In France, the series has a small cult following outside the main vein of popular culture which explains why this film has been a considerable hit (taking $6, 785, 586 during its first three weeks after opening on 591 screens), although it also has many bankable ingredients such as director Aghion's winning track record with local audiences (Pedale Douce, Belle Maman) and the value of stars Balasko and Baye. In English-speaking territories, it will not be received warmly by devotees of the series or critics and chances of international sales are slight. Instead its lasting value will be as a spin-off curio from the zeitgeist TV show.
Perhaps the singular nature of Eddie and Patsy's charm in Absolutely Fabulous is their very gawky Englishness. French versions swigging champagne immediately lack the comic pretentiousness of the English originals, while their devotion to fashion in Paris seems less incongruous than in London.
The performers can't be faulted for efforts. Balasko, a wonderfully gifted comic actress well-known outside France for Trop Belle Pour Toi and Gazon Maudit, gives her all as the gauche Eddie, wrapped up in tight Jean-Paul Gaultier creations and clutching her plastic fishbowl handbag. Baye is less successful as Patsy, although it's a brave attempt to recreate a role made so celebrated by another actress. She comes across as too distant and severe, and the chemistry between the two leads is muted.
The script has clearly come second to the translation of the concept to Paris. The story, as much as there is one, revolves around Eddie and Patsy's drunken attempts to seduce a handsome young delivery man (Taghmaoui), who is actually interested in Eddie's straight-laced daughter Safrane (Gillain).
In among the lame misunderstandings engendered by that scenario, the two friends try Ecstasy, go to fashion shows, shop, hire male prostitutes and make hapless attempts to represent clients such as French songbird Chantal Goya. Jean-Paul Gaultier - the perpetual object of Eddie and Patsy's devotion - and Catherine Deneuve are two of the celebrities making guest appearances. Even Jennifer Saunders herself pops up, speaking in French to Deneuve at a Gaultier fashion show while Eddie and Patsy make spectacles of themselves on the runway.
Prod cos: Mosca Films, TF1 Film Productions, Josy Films, Sans Contrefacon, TF1 Film Production
Fr dist: Bac Films
Int'l sales: UGC International
Prod: Pascal Houzelet.
Scr: Gabriel Aghion, Francois-Olivier Rousseau, Pierre Palmade & Remy Waterhouse, based on the TV series Absolutely Fabulous by Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French.
Cinematography: Francois Catonne.
Prod des: Olivier Radot.
Ed: Maryline Monthieux.
Main cast: Josiane Balasko, Nathalie Baye, Marie Gillain, Vincent Elbaz, Said Taghmaoui