Stan & Ollie
Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Danny Huston, Rufus Jones
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
Though the emotional moments are touching and largely earned, the film feels – like the pair in later life – like a lot of talent in search of a still-appreciative audience.
Laurel and Hardy were Hollywood comic stars – a double act – who started in the silent film era and were famous and popular throughout the 1930s. This might be an unnecessary little bio snapshot, but we have to think carefully about who would even know their names or their work today. Perhaps everyone would still know who Charlie Chaplin was, but is this still true of Buster Keaton? Or Harold Lloyd, or this pair? It was a very long time ago.
Present day funnymen Steve Coogan (The Trip, Philomena) and John C. Reilly play the comedians in this bittersweet drama based on a book about the era. Director Jon S Baird (who made Filth, which could hardly be more contrasting to this film), goes for gentle pacing and character study.
The film takes place mostly in the 1950s, decades after the comic pair’s heyday in Hollywood. Somewhat marooned by fashion, they are reduced to doing a nostalgia tour of Britain and Ireland. There, they are put into the tender clutches of empresario Bernard Delfont (a wonderfully oily-but-ruthless performance by Rufus Jones). The hotels he books them into are not exactly what they are used to but then they are not exactly packing the small regional theatres and, as he reminds them, their food doesn’t pay for itself. To add to all of this, their wives Lucille Hardy (the wonderful Shirley Henderson) and Ida Laurel (Nina Arianda) are coming over from America. Ida is Russian and no nonsense, Lucille worries about Oliver’s heart problems and the fact that the workaholic (and part alcoholic) Stan might drive him into an early grave. However, the heart of the film is the ‘love story’ between the two performers. They have their falling-outs, but really, they not only can’t work alone, they have this lifelong bromance that both cherish till the end.
The film recreates snatches of the perfect slapstick that made them so famous, but it only uses it by way of illustration. In fact, most of the film concerns their tribulations on tour and their arguments and reconciliations. It is all about the behind the scenes aspects of performers’ lives.
Perhaps it is wise not to try and make it a comedy in its own terms, but what we are left with is something that audiences might not expect or easily relate to. Though the emotional moments are touching and largely earned, the film feels – like the pair in later life – like a lot of talent in search of a still-appreciative audience. The love of the bygone era isn’t the only thing that drives it, but it probably wouldn’t work if you cannot access that sentiment, which kindles nostalgia in all of us.