Film Review – Stan & Ollie

Directed: Jon S. Baird

Writer: Jeff Pope, ‘A.J.’ Marriot 

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson 

Tagline: “The untold story of the world’s greatest comedy act.”

Trivia: The back ground footage on the western set when ‘Stan and Ollie’ do the dance routine is from the original ‘Way Out West ‘film.

I was eight when I first saw Laurel and Hardy on TV. It was 1968 and we were for the first time in the UK.

It was the days of only 3 TV channels. Magic hour was between 4:30 and 18:00 when we could watch those old movies… and I was hooked forever.

It helped obviously that you didn’t have to understand much English in order to enjoy the humor and the comedy of their act.

Stan & Ollie is one of number of recent movies – including Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool; My Week with Marilyn and 2019 Judy –that follow the downbeat experiences of big-name Hollywood stars in Britain at difficult times in their careers.

I was hesitant to watch it, as I didn’t want to shutter my childhood image of those two comedians who gave me my first taste in humor.  

What I found was a gently melancholic homage to this wonderful duo. It’s never quite as funny as might have been expected, but it tugs at the emotions throughout.

With beautiful performances by Steve Coogan (as Stan Laurel) and John C Reilly (as Oliver Hardy), it is a film about friendship and loyalty as much as a comedy

Stan & Ollie follow the duo’s tour of Britain in 1953, as they travel from Newcastle to Glasgow, playing half-empty halls and stay in seedy boarding houses and hotels.

They’re supposedly touring to support a new movie project; a movie Stan insists he has set up with a British producer. But while Norman Wisdom is winning hearts in theatres and Abbott and Costello are going to Mars in cinemas, Stan struggles to land a meeting with the mysterious financier Mr Miffin.

As for Ollie, whom everyone calls “Babe”, tired knees and a weakened heart make the tour a burden on him

Midway through the film, the comedians are joined by their wives. Lucielle Hardy (Shirley Henderson) affectionate and bossy and Ida Kitaeva (Nina Arianda), Stan’s headstrong partner, a former dancer and movie actress who tells everyone she meets the same stories about her once glorious career.

The women reflect their husbands’ personality dynamic, but while the men are in a physical gag comedy, the women are playing in a parallel, very verbal screwball comedy.

Henderson and Arianda are a double-act in their own right, and have their comic moments to the point that you feel you get a “two double act for the price of one”.

For the writers amidst us there are several writing lessons in the movie that are worth studying

In a single shot, Baird shows the duo in their bowler hats and braces walking from dressing rooms to sound stages. Everybody loves them.

In the course of an epic walk, Ollie grabs a doughnut and places a bet. Stan is greeted with affection by passersby. When they finally reach the set, they are met by their overbearing producer, Hal Roach (Danny Huston).

This is an exceptional piece of writing of how to introduce your characters without having to say nearly anything. In this one shot we get to see the difference of personalities between the two and the chemistry between them.

If ever there was a “show don’t tell”, it’s this, even in a sequence that is “Walk & Talk”..

The third act conflict that threatens to tear apart the partnership arrives as expected, but it comes in a way that surpass the cliché.

Laurel and Hardy’s livelihood is challenged not just by hurt feelings that have fretted for decades but also by the havocs of time, both physically and career-wise.

It’s clear that both men live to perform, and without that, there’s nothing to distract them from the ticking time clocks on their expiration date.

All main characters acknowledge and reflect the underlying sadness of this situation in scenes that are very moving   

“Stan & Ollie” is full of tender moments watch how Laurel decides to comfort a bedridden Hardy late in the film.

Coogan’s act of kindness toward Reilly feels perfect—the visual is comic but the sentiment is genuine and almost heartbreaking.

This film succeeds because it knows how to strike the right balance between laugh-out-loud comedy and quiet, effective drama.

I came out of the movie respecting even more this duo as their acts have not aged with passing time, which cannot be said on other comedian of that era.

Verdict 4.5/5 Stars in my book


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