We get cinematic love letters all the time, but we don’t often feel it like this…
Stan & Ollie is a shockingly tender ode to one of the world’s endearing comedy duos and the strength it took to them both to keep it together as they try to reignite their careers during a post war European tour.
Laurel & Hardy (Steve Coogan and John C Reilly) one of the world’s great comedy teams, 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 the charm and beauty of their performances shines through, they re-connect with their adoring fans. The tour becomes a hit, but Stan & Ollie can’t quite shake the specter of Laurel and Hardy’s past; the 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, they are aware that they may be approaching their swan song, trying to rediscover just how much they mean to each other.
In Stan & Ollie we get a rare gem of a movie that has an incredibly rare sense of tone as it delivers us a touching tribute to the marriage of creativity and the highs and lows it can bring.
The script from Jeff Pope is truly where the magic in the film lies. Historically a TV writer, Pope doesn’t fall into the standard bio picture trappings of trying to deliver us far too much material in far too short of a time. It’s a light and gentle affair that gives us a sweet glimpse at a melancholic time in these icons life and it speaks to the bond of genuine creativity that performers can have been one another.
The film never gets too heavy handed and it avoids getting corny with the material striking a funny yet maudlin balance to it all. Director Jon S Baird is a decent directorial hand and all the design elements of the film really look quite good but to be fair the thing almost directed itself as we do go through most of the standard bio picture beats but thankfully we had two incredibly strong leads to anchor the whole damn thing.
Steve Coogan is simply an inspired comedic talent and honestly doesn’t get enough credit for how good he actually is. Here as Stan Laurel, not only does his mimic the subtly and the beats of Laurel & Hardy’s comedy but we get the genuine and emotionally relevant nuance of a performer who just isn’t quite done yet with his performing days, in spite of what the universe is trying to tell. On his opposite side of the coin, John C. Reilly Oliver Hardy was absolutely inspired as we get a glimpse of a man who has lived in the spotlight to the point of excess and loved every minute but also has a very real sense of the light at the end of the tunnel that is coming fast. Together both Coogan and Reilly have a comedic chemistry that has rarely been matched on the screen and I’ve got to believe would make Laurel & Hardy themselves pretty proud as it captures something that is incredibly appreciated but rarely shown on screen which is the yin & yang nature that can come when two performers are genuinely inspired by one another.
When all is said and done, Stan & Ollie isn’t going to reinvent the cinematic wheel but it is a tender look at a duo of iconic performers who are simply looking for a way to bow out on their own terms.