‘Stan & Ollie’ | Film Review

January 25, 2019
Oli Buckley 0
Movie Reviews, Movies
Stan & Ollie Film Review


Stan & Ollie is a delightful film that works beautifully even if you aren’t well acquainted with their work. It’s about life, growing old, friendship and striving for more, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

When we meet Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C Reilly) they’re coming towards the end of their careers. They’re still amongst the biggest stars in Hollywood but because of their contracts, they don’t quite have the fame, fortune, and control afforded to their contemporaries like Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. While Ollie is happy to maintain the status quo and enjoy life his comedy wife can’t just let things go; he wants more from life, he needs recognition.

Fast forward to 15 years later and Laurel & Hardy are well and truly out of the movie business and are embarking on a tour of the UK’s less prestigious theatres in order to resuscitate their careers. The deals that they were on with their producer meant they don’t see a penny for the rights to their movies and so times are a little hard both creatively and financially.

I don’t really have a particularly strong connection to Laurel & Hardy; in fact, I don’t think I’ve even seen one of their films in its entirety. My only real exposure to them is seeing re-runs of the 1960’s cartoon based on them during the school holidays (this was in the 1980s, I’m not that old). Despite no particular affections for the pair I was still really intrigued by Stan & Ollie and I’m happy to report I was not disappointed.

The two central performances by Steve Coogan and John C Reilly are superb. I’ve seen footage of Laurel & Hardy and Coogan and Reilly’s performance could have easily been archival footage. They have the mannerisms and the physicality down to the letter.

One of the really nice things about the film was that it made me want to dig into Laurel & Hardy’s back catalog and see just what they were like in their prime. I thought that the music hall inspired physical comedy might be a little dated and primitive, but I was wrong. There’s something so fundamental about their kind of comedy that seemingly transcends time. The “double door” routine was an absolute highlight that I found brilliantly executed and worth a laugh or two.

Stan & Ollie isn’t really a film about comedy though, it’s a film about two comedians but who just happened to be thrown together by circumstance and ended up creating magic in the process. The most interesting parts of the film are when we’re investigating their lives off stage. For two people who spent so much time together, they seem oddly distant for the majority of the film, but when anyone is watching they suddenly come to life and sparkle. It’s almost as if they were never truly off stage unless they were alone together.

It’s a fascinating character study that I never knew that I really wanted and it is an utterly delightful way to spend 97 minutes. There weren’t really any shocking revelations or skeletons to be unearthed, just a look at two men and the emotional cost of bringing joy to so many people. The promoter for their UK tour, Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), says it the best when he describes their act as “beautiful madness”.

I highly recommend spending some time in the company of Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy. It’s wonderfully entertaining and punctuated with real pathos. It feels like a gateway drug to discovering more of their work if you’re not already a fan and I’m sure that devoted fans will appreciate the love and care that’s gone into this.

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