‘Stan & Ollie’ review: A heartwarming biopic about one of the greatest comedy duos of all time
Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly shine in the showbiz biopic ‘Stan & Ollie’ about one of the greatest comedy duos of all time
Between 1927 and 1950 Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (Laurel and Hardy) were one of the most famous and successful comedy duos in Hollywood. While the younger generation might not be familiar with their work, hopefully John S. Baird’s new biopic ‘Stan & Ollie’ will open their eyes to two of the best performers of all time. Starring Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy, ‘Stan & Ollie’ tells the story of the comedy duo’s final tour.
The film begins in 1937 at the Hal Roach Studios, a time when Laurel and Hardy were the hottest comedy duo in Hollywood. However, amidst their success, Stan decides to hardball the studio head to either renegotiate their contract or to possibly sign with another studio. Ollie, the more laidback of the two, is hesitant to rock the boat and essentially plays Stan for a fool by staying at the studio for a solo career when he had promised the latter, he would leave with him.
The film then jumps ahead to the 1950’s, a time when the world had just assumed Laurel and Hardy retired because they had been out of the spotlight for so long. However sadly this was not the case, as both performers struggled on their own and were essentially nothing without each other. After years of very limited contact and struggling for work, the two decide to embark on a tour of the United Kingdom with hopes of wooing a British producer’s interest in making a Robin Hood parody.
The tour starts off rough, with small venues that aren’t sold out. However, as Stan and Ollie’s personal and professional relationship gets back on track, their shows begin to sell out. Next thing you know Stan and Ollie are the hottest ticket in town and things seem to be looking up for the formerly famous duo. That said, there is still tension between the two beneath the surface, as Stan more or less lied about the producer being interested in the Robin Hood movie, which was essentially the purpose of the tour.
The film gets even better when their wives come to London to support them for their biggest show yet. Lucille Hardy (played by Shirley Henderson) and Ida Lauren (played by Nina Arianda) light up the screen adding a much-needed feminine layer to the film. These women truly love their husbands and their husbands adore them too. That said, the two ladies are not too fond of each other, constantly bickering about who was at fault for their husbands' split years before.
While everything seems to be going a little too well for Stan and Ollie, it becomes clear that Ollie’s health is deteriorating. After a massive public argument with Stan, Ollie has a heart attack and is told by doctors he will never be able to perform again. In this moment, audiences see Stan and Ollie are far more than business partners, they are family. Going against his doctor’s wishes, Ollie insists on giving one final performance with Stan, bringing the film full circle.
The most impressive thing about this film were Reilly and Coogan’s performances, which quite frankly, not many other actors could have pulled off. The slapstick simplicity of humor from this time is no longer relevant in today’s society, however, Reilly and Coogan somehow pull it off beautifully. The only real criticism for the film is that it depicts these men’s lives through rose colored glasses. In reality, each of them had far more personal struggles than the film touched on.
Screenwriter Jeff Pope did a brilliant job adapting A.J. Marriot’s book “Laurel & Hardy: The British Tours”, turning the story into something movie viewers would be enthralled by. Director John S. Baird also did a fantastic job, balancing the comedy and the drama perfectly, not making the comedy or the film itself too over the top.
‘Stan & Ollie’ will be released in the U.S. December 28th and in the U.K. and Ireland on January 11, 2019.