Stan & Ollie directed by Jon S. Baird and written by Jeff Pope is a film that will surely bring smiles to audiences worldwide this winter. Stan & Ollie follows the legendary comedy duo Laurel and Hardy on their tour of Britian and Ireland, their working relationship and above all the bond they have cultivated between themselves and the fans that still adore them today. There was only really one gripe I had but besides that, it’s a nearly perfect film, but let’s get into the positives first.
At the beginning of the film, the audience gets introduced to Stan Laurel played by Steve Coogan and Oliver Hardy played by John C. Reilly at their peak in 1937 as Laurel and Hardy make their way onto the set at Hal Roach Studios. The Boys have been making hit after hit for the studio since they starred in their first Laurel and Hardy picture, The Second Hundred Years ten years earlier. Stan and Ollie are treated like the big men on campus as they catch up on their love lives (or lack thereof) in Stan Laurel’s case, due to yet another divorce, gambling, and even what parties they might hit up at the weekend. Surprisingly there was even a reference to Step Brothers which nearly took me out of the film, but to be fair for audiences who get that reference they might understand Stan and Ollie’s relationship better as John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell’s films are probably the closest we get to Laurel and Hardy pictures today. It’s all fun and games until they get on set and that’s where we start to see the beginning of the conflict in the film.
Right from the get go, the writing and the acting were fully connected and true to the real life people and friendship that Coogan, Reilly, and Pope are setting out to portray and it stays that way throughout the entire film.
The film jumps to nearly 20 years later in 1953 as Stan and Ollie land in England for the beginning of a tour through Britain and Ireland they have planned in order to get reacquainted after a falling out, and to prepare for a new film, Rob’Em Good. It’s a rocky road at first with small crowds and comically awkward interactions with their almost robotically superficial tour manager.
Laurel and Hardy still have it albeit using their tried and true material, for those who know the phrase hard boiled eggs and nuts and the Lonesome Pine you’ll be glad to hear that Coogan and Reilly have all of the little detailed individual and team hallmarks the real Laurel and Hardy had. From Stan’s toothless long faced grin and hair fluffing to Hardy’s exaggerated head nod and his tie waving and with the combination of their long careers in comedic films, Coogan and Reilly are really perfectly cast.
Slowly but surely the tour picks up speed as they start to rekindle their friendship and make public appearances all over Britian. Laurel and Hardy are soon selling out performances at every major theatre. That is until the old wound is opened up again and that’s when Coogan and Reilly really get to explore who Stan and Ollie were personally.
While the film is inherently going to be very funny and comical due to the subjects’ long and extraordinarily funny careers, the serious and hard hitting parts is where our leading men really bring new life to these characters, these legends I grew up and many others grew up watching and those moments were where I found myself paying closer and more detailed attention to. The way Coogan and Reilly were able to pivot from a funny scene to a quite harsh one where the Boys berate each other for what they did or lack of what they did not only shows the depth of both of the films subjects Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, but it also shows the brilliance of these leading men in how they are able to make fully fledged humans out of legends.
The rest of the cast is just as good especially the actresses playing Stan and Ollie’s wives. Stan Laurel’s wife Ida, an extravagant self-centered and often stark former Russian dancer played by Nina Arianda, and Lucille Hardy, a tiny, caring and oftentimes firm former script girl played by Shirley Henderson almost stole the show as they act as an additional but not intentional comedy duo like their husbands. While not together, they support and defend their husbands with compassion, pride, and controlled ferocity.
The one complaint I have however and it’s not a terribly big one is the exaggeration of the feud. The dispute the men had wasn’t as bitter or as long as the film makes it out to be. But without that there would be no conflict in the film and the audience wouldn’t get the triumphant and heartwarming ending they get with Stan & Ollie.
Overall, Stan & Ollie is a joyous ode to two legends of movie-making comedy their films, the way in which they worked together, and above all, the power of friendship. As long as Laurel and Hardy films are still being played whether it be Way Out West, The Music Box, Sons of the Desert or my favorite, March of the Wooden Soldiers, or even Stan & Ollie, the friendship and the endless amounts of laughs they bring will echo their names throughout eternity.