STAN & OLLIE (PG)
Director: Jon S Baird
Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson
Running time: 98 minutes
Verdict: A sweet, sad story about fame and friendship
Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly take the bromance to a whole other level in this Laurel and Hardy biopic, set more than a decade after the comedy duo’s Hollywood heyday.
After a brief flashback to the period in which they filmed their iconic “Way Out West” dance sequence, Stan & Ollie jumps forward more than 15 years to their 1953 UK reunion tour.
Initially performing in half-empty, second-rate provincial theatres — their routines as uncertain as their friendship, not to mention the next booking — the seasoned troupers slowly turn their fortunes around with media stunts and other assorted promotional activities.
By the time they reach London, the comedy legends have sold out a two-week season at a prestigious West End theatre.
But that’s when unresolved tensions boil over.
In the empathetic hands of Coogan, Reilly and director Jon S Baird (Filth), Stan & Ollie is more than just a feel-good comeback story.
The filmmakers explore the conflicts in Laurel and Hardy’s creative and personal relationship with a sensitivity that’s beautifully matched to their comedy, as well as the era in which the film is set.
Coogan and Reilly share their characters’ natural screen chemistry and they capture the comedy duo’s physical mannerisms without every tipping over into caricature.
Stan Laurel wrote most of Laurel and Hardy’s material and oversaw production of their films (although Way Out West was only the second film in which he received a producer’s credit.)
Coogan portrays him as an affable but introspective workaholic.
For a big man, Hardy was extraordinarily light on his feet. Reilly’s performance is no less nimble.
Both men had a chequered romantic history — Laurel married five times, twice to the same woman, Hardy walked up the aisle three times.
Their creative interdependency can’t have been easy to live with.
But in this version of events, Russian dancer Ida Kitaeva Laurel and former script girl Lucille Hardy were made of exceptionally tough stuff.
Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson pay them their due respects in two strong and memorable performances.
But Stan & Ollie is primarily a story of friendship and intimacy between two very different and complex men.
For most of the film, Laurel and Hardy tiptoe carefully around their deeply-held grievances — born out of a contractual dispute with Hal Roach (Danny Huston) that resulted in Hardy making “the elephant movie” (Zenobia) on his own.
Their reconciliation, played with the sweet naivety of one of their comic routines, is a little bit of cinematic magic.