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Stan and Ollie - DVD Review

Stan & Ollie

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

JON S Baird’s affectionate tribute to the genius of Laurel & Hardy is as heart-warming as it is tear-jerking – and a film that successfully ensures their legend will live on. It’s also marked out by two outstanding performances from Steve Coogan and John C Reilly, whose portrayal of the comedic duo is spot-on.

Avoiding the pitfalls of a more traditional biopic, Baird’s film opts to focus on the twilight of their career, when the triumphs were harder earned and the success story was far more bittersweet. But while tragic in places, his film deftly combines some of their classic humour with a genuinely involving human story that dares to peak below the bowler hats and take a look at the real men who wore them.

Admittedly, the film does actually open with a bravado tracking scene, circa 1937, when Laurel & Hardy were at the peak of their game. During the course of a walking conversation, it underlines their popularity, tips its hat to their comic genius and explains their woes – whether, in Hardy’s case, it’s an addiction to getting married and gambling, or in Laurel’s, a bitterness at being exploited by the studios at a time when the likes of Charlie Chaplin were owning their own movies.

Within minutes, Laurel (Coogan) has fallen out with studio chief Hal Roach (Danny Huston) and been fired, while Hardy (Reilly) has been persuaded to stay on and make a film without his other half. It’s a key moment in their career that informs much of the dramatic tension that ensues.

The film then jumps forward 16 years later, as the two are reunited for a live performance tour of the UK. Both harbour old wounds and unspoken regrets and resentments, yet both are pinning their hopes of prolonging their careers on a new movie about Robin Hood that Laurel has been busy penning.

But the reality of their situation is that they are yesterday’s heroes, who can no longer rely on past glories. Age has caught up with them and taken its toll, while the studios have no intention of financing their films. They must even resort to making public appearances at beauty pageants and shop openings in order to guarantee the sale of tickets to their theatre shows.

As the pressures of this reality mount, so Hardy’s health decays and the two men are forced to make some difficult decisions… albeit as their efforts pay rich rewards with belatedly sold out shows.

Buoyed by a fantastic script from Jeff (Philomena) Pope, Stan & Ollie is a wonderfully bittersweet film that doesn’t shy away from the emotional complexity at play. Yes, it celebrates their legacy and their continued ability to deliver comedy gold.

But it also exposes the follies of the two men: their compulsions, their egos and the differences that sometimes caused friction between them. It makes them real and all the more human.

Stan & Ollie

There are several scenes that resonate on a highly dramatic level, not least of which is a falling out at a gala reception that is viewed by those who witness it as another piece of comedy. And yet, the words exchanged between them hit home hard and create another rift that, in turn, makes their subsequent reunion all the more humbling and poignant.

Such scenes are beautifully played by Coogan and Reilly, whose rapport is exceptional. Indeed, such is the way they have faithfully recreated the pair’s mannerisms and vocal inflections that you genuinely believe you are in the presence of Laurel & Hardy. It’s just a shame that, so far, neither actor has received the type of awards recognition that such fine performances deserve.

Likewise, Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson who excel as Laurel and Hardy’s current wives.

But the success of this movie extends beyond any possible accolades. It lies in its brilliant recreation of several iconic moments from Laurel & Hardy’s career, as well as its honesty and integrity in exploring the reality of their complex dynamic.

It’s a film to make you laugh and to cry… an ode to friendship and love that delivers rich rewards. I, for one, would be at the front of any queue to see Coogan and Reilly reprise their roles should they ever wish to take them on tour!

Certificate: PG
Running time: 1hr 37mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: June 3, 2019