STAN AND OLLIE (2018) – CINEMA REVIEW
Directed by: Jon S. Baird
Produced by: Faye Ward
Written by: Jeff Pope
Cast: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Rufus Jones, Danny Huston etc.
**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**
There are very few things as warming and pleasant as taking a trip down memory lane, recalling the fuzzy thoughts of a bygone childhood time when everything was laughter and escape. Escape in this instance came in the form of a black and white television box; while laughter came from watching arguably the greatest comedy double act in movie history on TV every early evening after school on BBC2. To be sure, my youth would have been a lot more depressing without Laurel and Hardy’s comedies to divert my mind away from family strife, school bullies and grey council estate existence.
Watching Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s comedies was a formative part of my early years and I have continued to be a fan of there work to this day. It’s incredible that, when I was a kid, films made nearly forty years before had me in uncontrollable fits of laughter. Even now classics such as: Laughing Gravy (1931), Way Out West (1937), The Music Box (1932), Sons of the Desert (1933), County Hospital (1932), Busy Bodies (1933), Our Relations (1933), The Flying Deuces (1939) etc. to name just a few of their incredible output, retain the power to have me in stitches. Laurel’s skinny dumb man-child perfectly contrasted Hardy’s larger more confident, yet deluded leader of the two. Their comedy derived from their hapless misadventures, usually involving some new business venture or fish-out-of-water situation which resulted in anarchic chaos and silliness all round. But the comedy was not simple pratfalls but carefully constructed sight-gags, complex slap-stick set-pieces and constant battles with wives, girlfriends or authority figures.
After briefly establishing the characters of Stan and Ollie in Hollywood during 1937, the Jeff Pope scripted film moves to the United Kingdom in 1953. Here Laurel and Hardy’s star is on the wane and they have taken a music hall tour to try and make a few quid, while potentially getting a Robin Hood movie off the ground. With their health suffering, especially Hardy’s, due to excessive alcohol and food intake, the two begrudgingly go on tour while bitter acrimony simmers underneath. On top of that the tour is struggling due to a lack of promotion by Bernard Delfont and the whole thing looks like it could be a disaster. I must admit the film is not really that dramatic and stands more as a nostalgic tribute to the power of Stan and Ollie’s friendship and comedic relationship. Laurel is the workaholic always cracking wise and looking for the next gag, while Hardy is the more sociable and relaxed with an eye for the ladies and horses.
Jon S. Baird directs with a deft hand, yet he has two incredible actors in the lead roles. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are absolutely perfect as Stan and Ollie. Their mannerisms and comic timing in capturing the comedy duo are a joy to watch. Moreover, there’s a wistful pathos in the fact a great life journey is about to come to an end. Here, Coogan and Reilly bring a real warmth to the roles and as they resolve their tensions the over-riding emotion ultimately is love. As the tour continues they are joined by their wives, portrayed by Shirley Henderson and the scene-stealing, Nina Arianda. Their relationships at times reflects the hen-pecking women Stan and Ollie would find themselves chained to in their movies, but there’s clearly a lot of love on screen too. Lastly, despite their health issues Stan and Ollie are born entertainers, fully committed to the ethos that the show must go on.
Overall, Stan and Ollie is a wonderful paean to two of the greatest comedic actors that ever lived. It’s gentle in pace and drama but anchored by two mesmerising performances by Coogan and Reilly. Despite the low budget, the period locations and costumes are brilliantly designed, and I especially enjoyed seeing many recognizable London locations. The biggest highlight though throughout is the hilarious re-enactments of many of Laurel and Hardy’s famous sketches, songs and movie moments. These took me back to my youth and days of watching Stan and Ollie on that small black and white box at home, laughing my silly head off without a care in the world.