Comedy duo Laurel and Hardy are a curious phenomenon in so far as you’d probably find it every bit as difficult to find a modern viewer who dislikes the double-act as you would to find one who still finds them genuinely funny. Whilst comedy has become increasingly sophisticated in the many decades since the release of their last movie, there’s an undeniable charm and an infectious warmth that emanates from their work. The two seemed to share a very real friendship and that forms the backbone of much of their appeal.
Stan and Ollie does an admirable job of avoiding the shortcomings that so typically plague these sorts of projects. Instead of attempting to cram its subjects’ lives into one meandering story that either has to sacrifice structure or historical accuracy, it hones in on the pair’s twilight years, after their stars have started to fade. We follow them as they embark on a nationwide tour in the hopes of raising funds for their first feature film in years. Not only does this give the story a real focus, but it also gives everything a sense of melancholia that elevates it above the extremely light-hearted comedy-drama it would otherwise have been.
That’s not to say that Stan and Ollie is remarkable. It’s still a fairly broad and simplistic telling of this story and one that contains more than a few rather bizarre moments of humour that almost seem to forget the difference between the men and their stage personas. That said, the real reason to show up is the performances, and on that front, Stan & Ollie absolutely delivers. Steve Coogan does an excellent job as Stan, although he never quite disappears into his role in the way that John C. Reilly does. This is yet another nomination-worthy performance from Reilly - and sadly, in yet another film that will most-likely go by unrecognised by the Academy.
As you’d expect, the film delights in producing pitch-perfect recreations of classic routines by the duo. Watching the technicality go into having Coogan and Reilly perform them really helps you to appreciate just how efficient and well-crafted they were to begin with. You’re left with a whole new admiration for their work.
Whilst Stan and Ollie is unlikely to engage with the awards ceremonies it so blatantly feels produced for, anybody who considers themselves to be a fan of either the cast or Laurel and Hardy themselves, should consider it a must-see. For all of its flaws, it completely captures the sense of amity that keeps the real Stan and Ollie’s work so enduring to this day.
STAN & OLLIE / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JON S. BAIRD / SCREENPLAY: JEFF POPE / STARRING: JOHN C. REILLY, STEVE COOGAN, SHIRLEY HENDERSON, NINA ARIANDA, DANNY HUSTON / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 11TH
Expected 6 out of 10