I am aware that the mass amount of people who will see Stan & Ollie will have religiously watched Laurel & Hardy films, although I am aware of their enormous popularity and influence on comedy today, Laurel & Hardy are alien to me. I had never seen a Laurel & Hardy film surprisingly, growing up I was more familiar with the doubles acts of Morecambe & Wise, Vic & Bob, Ant & Dec (although, I was aware of The Music Box) In a way, it compelled me to see this film even more, to see what I had been missing out on. From what I saw, these two men were equal in their brilliance and the film does very well in reflecting their genius.
Just like comedic double acts in real life, the audience needs to see the chemistry between the two. Steve Coogan (Stan) and John C. Reilly (Ollie) have you covered. Both bring out the best of their respective characters with performances that don’t outclass the other, if you had a favourite, you’d be defeating the purpose of a double act. Their partnership is a thing to behold and the physicality the two put into performing the timeless gags had me chuckling with every tiny movement as they draw you into the sketch. Looking back, this is a very enduring friendship, one whose naturality is perfectly executed in both the height of their popularity and being strapped of cash.
I’ve been waiting a long time for a biopic to just tell a story. An increasing trend in biopics is to revolve the story of the subject around some scandalous point of their life. Sure, this is a great way to explore character depth but to do this and also celebrate their being is a hard thing to balance. While there is little to no scandal in Stan & Ollie, it ticks all the boxed in what should be involved in a biopic. Character depth, check. Highlighting their importance, check. Celebrating their life, check. Because this film ticks all the boxes, it becomes such an easy thing to watch and appreciate. And of course, you also have throwbacks to classic bits of their work, there is a scene in a train station where they drop a suitcase that travels down the stairs echoing the piano movers.
A lot will be said about Laurel & Hardy, but what deserves equal praise is the film including as it puts it “two double acts for the price of one”. This second double act is in the form of the men’s wives Lucille (Shirley Henderson) and Ida (Nina Arianda). These two characters could not be any more polar opposites with one another and the back and forth dialogue exchanged between the two makes them just as funny as their comedic husbands. Curiously, one could see the dialogue between the two as the things Stan & Ollie want to say to each other but hold it in for the greater good of their tour.
The film opens with a long, lengthy tracking shot on a Hollywood studio with the two at the top of their game, everyone recognizes them. 16 years later, once in the UK, they’re desperate to find people still interested in their act. That opening scene is all the information you need about the two men and it paints a clear picture to the mini grudge of Hardy doing a film on his own that still causes friction between the two after all those years. When the film eventually introduced the central conflict in Stan & Ollie, the film can very easily bring back that feel good aspect of their friendship. In their final show in Ireland, Ollie isn’t feeling well, but when Stan suggests ending the show without a song, Ollie not only continues but changes it to their famous Way Out West dance. That moment was a true testament to the films enduring, light as a feather tone. It a beautiful scene and mirrors that famous phrase “the show must go on”.
Although being strapped for cash, you’d expect their fame would not have been affected. Even so, it seems hardly any people recognize them whilst in the UK. it’s a tiny nitpick, but being the Hollywood mega-stars of that era, you’d think there would be people maybe gawking or doing a double take, even when fitted with their noticeable attire and bowler hats. Again, a little nitpick that could very easily be ignored because it could show their decline. Nevertheless, it is the only distraction from the story.
As someone who was worried if you had to be a Laurel & Hardy fan to enjoy this, it was one of the most pleasant times I’ve had in the cinema in a while. I believe its fantastic when a film requires little to no effort to watch and you can just enjoy, well that’s exactly how I felt. Coogan and Reilly bring this comedic double act back from the dead with simplistic physical comedy that everyone can understand. Well, here’s another fine film you’ve gotten us into.
Final Result: 9/10 – Excellent
Have you seen Stan & Ollie? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: Glass or Mary: Queen of Scots