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A professor of mine once argued that the entirety of "Hamlet" could be summed up in the first line of the play: "Who's there?" This is the big question — is there a god who cares about us and about justice on this earth, or are we left to our own insidious devices, adrift in a universe without meaning?
If there is a line that best sums up the "Absolutely Fabulous" movie — and indeed, the entire BBC series that preceded this film — it's a line spoken just a few minutes in: "Where's the champagne?" "Ab Fab," as it is known to devotees, has always been about the quest to find the perfect party, to know the right people, to enjoy the best of life, and to matter to the wider world in some way, if only as the object of jealousy, though our heroines have always been poorly suited for the challenge. Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) runs a flailing PR business, while her best friend, Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), is vaguely employed at a noted fashion magazine. The two live a life powered by booze, cigarettes, credit cards and various pills, as they seek to insinuate themselves into the lives of the rich and famous.
However, Edina and Patsy's latest scheme ends in British supermodel Kate Moss being knocked from a balcony into the Thames River and feared dead. Accused of murder and hated by the world, Edina is almost forced to confront the consequences of her shallow lifestyle, but soon she and Patsy are off to the south of France with the hopes that Patsy can find a rich old flame and marry him and thus keep the party going. These plans, like all others, go completely off the rails in spectacular fashion — a result that, in fact, is what redeems these characters. There is something of Falstaff to Edina and Patsy — yes, they are completely materialistic, never thinking beyond the next party, but they are so bad in their scheming and so petty in their wants that it's hard not to root for them. Or, as Edina says after a recent setback, "It's going to happen to anyone who's really lived life!"
It would be easy to dismiss the "Ab Fab" movie as yet another artifact of nostalgia, yet another television series aiming for a big-screen revival years after it was last relevant. But "Ab Fab" has always been about nostalgia. Indeed, the Bob Dylan song that has long accompanied the title credits, "This Wheel's on Fire," sums it up best: "If your mem'ry serves you well / You'll remember you're the one / That called on me to call on them / To get you your favors done / And after ev'ry plan had failed / And there was nothing more to tell / You knew that we would meet again / If your mem'ry served you well." Edina and Patsy have always traded in nostalgia, reveling in memories of the wild parties of the '60s and '70s, even as they have sought to regain their own youth by whatever means necessary (early on, Edina laments the inefficacy of her latest treatment, "stem cells and the blood of a 2-year-old child," only to have Patsy recommend fetal blood as the real fountain of youth). This is a world, after all, that does not treat aging women kindly.
And with this movie, Edina and Patsy force us to confront our own complicity in the youth-industrial complex, even as they themselves remain oblivious to any larger significance to existence. Or maybe that is too deep a reading for a movie that includes a cameo by Jon Hamm reliving the nightmare of losing his virginity, climaxing with a three-wheeled delivery truck splashing down into a luxurious pool. At a spare 91 minutes, it honestly feels like a long episode of the series, though it manages to give a dose of everything that made the show so enjoyable and keeps you laughing long enough not to wonder what that might mean. "Hamlet" famously avoids answering its big question, but "Ab Fab" does, in the end, find the champagne.