For our earlier review of Stan & Ollie, click here.
Synopsis: Laurel & Hardy, the world’s favorite comedy double act, set out on a variety hall tour of Britain in 1953. Diminished by age and with their golden era as the kings of Hollywood comedy now behind them, they face an uncertain future. As they set out, crisscrossing the country, attendances are disappointingly low. But they’ve always been able to make each other laugh and as the charm and beauty of their performances shines through their audiences laugh too, and they re-connect with legions of adoring fans, old and new. The tour becomes a hit, but Laurel & Hardy can’t quite shake the spectre of Stan and Ollie’s past; and long buried ghosts, coupled with Oliver’s failing health, start to threaten their precious partnership. A portrait of the most tender and poignant of creative marriages begins to unfold as the duo, aware that they may be approaching their swan song, try to rediscover just how much they mean to each other. (eOne Films)
Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, and Nina Arianda
Writer: Jeff Pope
Director: Jon S. Baird
Rating: PG (Canada/United States)
Running Time: 97mins
It’s kind of a shame that Stan & Ollie didn’t break out more awards-wise after mostly getting lost in the shuffle during December/January awards-qualifying release season. A biopic based on the famed 1920s-1940s comedy duo of Stan Laurel (Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (Reilly), this film may follow the usual tropes but despite that their story was still compelling to watch. Focusing on an arguably too limited period of their lives, we see them at their peak followed by them on their decline. Just like with anyone, it is hard to stay at the top. As times change, people change as did Laurel and Hardy.
As with most biopics, there were peaks and valleys and this film was no different. However, the most compelling part of the film was watching Laurel and Hardy’s relationship evolve over the course of the film. For those who didn’t know, Laurel and Hardy were known for a slapstick comedy act in the ilk of Charlie Chaplin. At their peak, they were known all around the world but as time went on, they could not reconcile with that fame and began to grow apart before coming back together decades later for what would be their big comeback. This would be easier said than done as time would not do them any favors and their pasts could not be easily forgotten.
The biggest difference between both time periods was Hardy’s physical transformation. Hardy would gain a significant amount of weight over time and the makeup and prosthetic work to achieve this was impeccable. Though it may be distracting at first, it is easy to get used to. Hardy’s health would be a major hurdle for he and Laurel’s supposed comeback. A lot of their lifelong fans were still there to support them but now that wouldn’t be enough. They would also have to overcome the long repressed feelings they held towards one another as their pasts would resurface. In the end, regardless of how they may feel about each other, it was this that would remind them that they needed one another. Regardless of whether or not they succeeded, they would always have one another.
Ultimately, the best part of the film was the amazingly layered performances of Coogan and Reilly as Laurel and Hardy and their excellent chemistry. This film would not have worked nearly as well if not for them which is a real testament to their collective work here. They were incredibly fun to watch while creating a believable friendship between these characters. They were entertaining while performing their comedy routines and brought plenty of emotion as well, each fighting their own feelings towards one another until their lifelong bond would win out, realizing that they needed one another. Ultimately, they both make you feel for their characters, especially Reilly who acted in a fat suit for the majority of the film.
Overall, Stan & Ollie is a magnificent and authentic period piece that was both funny and touching thanks to career best performances by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy. Despite the standard storytelling, limited focus, and short running time, their performances and chemistry make it well worth the watch. It is a shame that it did not get the award recognition that it truly deserved.