This weekend, two television shows with large and passionate LGBT fan bases make the leap from 30-minute episodes to feature-length movies. In both cases, fans of the series will be thrilled to see their favorites again, but newcomers will still be able to follow along and join in the laughs and the tears.
With some clever writing, “Looking: the Movie” introduces (or reintroduces) the characters with great warmth and efficiency. Thirty-year old video game designer Patrick (Jonathan Groff) is returning to San Francisco after a nine-month hiatus. Through some chatter with the cab driver, dinner with his bffs Agustín (Frankie J. Alvarez) and Dom (Murray Bartlett) and a quick tryst with the cute Jimmy (Michael Rosen), Patrick and his friends quickly bring everyone up to speed.
They are soon joined by series regulars Doris and Malik (Lauren Weedman and Bashir Salahuddin), Richie and Brady (Raúl Castillo and Chris Perfetti) and Eddie (Daniel Franzese) for a moving wedding (no spoilers here); a wild reception fueled by drugs, alcohol and angry recriminations; and, of course, a sentimental finale at an all-night diner. There are no big surprises, but there are no major disappointments either, just a welcome sense of closure as the characters heal old wounds and move forward into the photogenic sunrise.
Working with series creator and writer Michael Lannan, show runner/writer/director Andrew Haigh (best known for the films “Weekend” and “45 Years”) seems far more comfortable working in a feature-length format. Where the individual episodes of the series often felt clunky and uneven, the movie feels more assured. The pacing is comfortable, the exposition and dialogue feel natural and unforced (even if sometimes a little clichéd), the acting is solid and the cinematography is lovely, a heart-felt Valentine to the environs of San Francisco.
The weakest element of the television movie will remind detractors of the weakest moments of the series: toxic relationships and repetitive discussions of them. Patrick’s uninteresting, unpleasant and unrealistic sexual relationship with is boss Kevin (Russell Tovey) clogged up the series and now weighs down the movie. Just as the HR department should have shut down the liaison between supervisor and subordinate, Haigh should have written off Kevin in a few lines. The time would have been better spent elsewhere.
The strongest element of the television movie will remind fans of the most exciting moments of the series: its bold presentation of gay male intimacy and sexuality. On his first night back in the city, Patrick goes home with the charming Jimmy (Rosen is a real find). They have sex (Patrick has finally gotten over some of his hang-ups in the bedroom) and afterwards talk into the night over reheated Chinese food. It’s a lovely sequence, full of sizzling eroticism and deep connection, both in and out of the bedroom.
On the other hand, the ladies of “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” need little introduction. They’re archetypal clowns, with roots back to Aristophanes and Shakespeare. Jennifer Saunders (screenwriter and star) quickly reestablishes the characters and their new scenario. Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) is still a fashion editor with rather undefined responsibilities. She’s the same as ever: tall, blond, acerbic and short on cash.
Edina Monsoon (Saunders) faces tougher circumstances. Her PR firm is floundering, and she can barely wrangle her eccentric menagerie. The regulars are back: Julia Sawalha as Edina’s straight-laced daughter Saffy, June Whitfield as her sharp-tongued Mother, and Jane Horrocks as her delightfully ditzy assistant Bubble. This time there’s also Saffy’s daughter Lola (Indeyarna Donaldson-Holness) and Edina’s hairdresser Christopher (Chris Colfer).
To revive her flagging fortunes, Edina decides to enlist Kate Moss as a client. Unfortunately, she accidentally pushes the supermodel into the Thames. To escape the paparazzi and the police, and to find rich husbands, Patsy and Edina flee to the Riviera for more champagne-fueled hijinks.
But, the plot is really just a framework for sight gags and celebrity cameos, and the movie provides lots of both. Saunders and Lumley are both gifted comedic actors; their physical comedy is as sharp as their delivery of zingers and dizzy rants. Celebrity sightings, for those who are playing Ab Fab bingo, include both Dame Edna Everage and Barry Humphries, Mo Gaffney, Rebel Wilson, Graham Norton, Jon Hamm, Joan Collins, Stella McCartney, Perez Hilton, Jean-Paul Gaultier and the very funny Jerry Hall.
There’s even dozens of delightful drag queens who help Saffy track down her missing mother and daughter. If the energy ever drops, and it does from time to time, don’t worry, sweetie darling. There’s another outrageous outfit or another name to drop around the corner.
Both “Looking” and “Absolutely Fabulous” make the move from series to showcase with considerable skill and style. Fans will find plenty to enjoy; haters will find plenty to hate; and, newcomers will quickly catch on. Depending on your mood, both “Absolutely Fabulous: the Movie” and “Looking: the Movie” are a find way to spend a summer evening.
“Looking: The Movie” premieres on July 23 on HBO. “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” opens everywhere on July 22.