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Stan and Ollie

Starring Steve Coogan and John C Riley

Director: John S Baird

Genre: Biography/ Drama                 

Runs: 97 Minutes                                                                      Rated: M

This film is a gently elegant tribute to Laurel and Hardy. It tugs at the emotions throughout. With beautiful performances by Steve Coogan (as Stan Laurel) and John C Reilly (as Oliver Hardy The story is all about a film about friendship and loyalty as much as a comedy. Director Jon S Baird takes us through the two comedian’s private lives and dealings with one another as an almost identical portrayal to the characters they played on screen. The movie follows Stan and Ollie on their tour of Britain in 1953, which was very late in their careers. They perform in half-empty venues from Newcastle to Glasgow and stay in seedy boarding houses and hotels. Their slick shifty promoter Bernard Delfont (played by Rufus Jones) is far more interested in boosting new client Norman Wisdom than in helping old-timers like Laurel and Hardy.

A short flashback to Hollywood in 1937, reminds us that, only a few years earlier, Laurel and Hardy were the biggest comedy stars in the world. In a single shot, the director shows the duo in their bowler hats and braces walking from dressing rooms to sound stages. Everybody loves them. In the course of an epic walk, Ollie grabs a doughnut and places a bet. Stan is greeted with affection by passersby. When they finally reach the set, they are met by their overbearing producer, Hal Roach (Danny Huston).

Stan, far more business savvy than Ollie, is well aware they are paid considerably less than Charlie Chaplin and other stars; the film wrongly portrays silent-era legends Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, whose careers were almost finished by that stage. Stan threatens to break with Roach and go it alone, but Ollie isn’t as keen to embrace the plan. Forward 16 years later, the comedians have come to Britain to try to revive their careers. If their stage shows go well enough, they hope to make another movie.

Both Reilly and Coogan brilliantly capture the physical mannerisms and verbal tics of their characters without resorting to caricature. The make-up department has done wonders in bulking Reilly up and giving him an enormous double chin. Coogan, meanwhile, has that thin-faced, hapless, head-scratching, little boy lost look that Laurel always showed on screen. They sing “Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia” and dance with a comic grace and panache matching that of the real comedy legends.

“Stan & Ollie” is one of a number of recent movies that follow the lackluster experiences of big-name Hollywood stars in Britain at difficult times in their careers. The film becomes progressively darker as Laurel and Hardy are forced to perform publicity stunts – judging a bathing beauty contest, helping kids cross the road – to boost ticket sales. Some of the gags are even- quite crude. At one stage, in clear reference to their Oscar-winning short The Music Box, we see the comedians trying to drag an enormous trunk up a flight of stairs. Stan is humiliated when a British producer asked to finance their comeback movie won’t even meet with him. And we see the team bewildered as they The movie also features their wives Shirley Henderson and  Nina Arianda. The two ladies are a double-act in their own right and have their comic moments, but they fade into the background whenever Coogan and Reilly are on screen. The only relationship that really matters in this film is the one between the two principals. As in all these films about mates, the old boys have their rocky moments. Stan accuses Ollie of being a “lazy ass” who got lucky because he met a partner who would do all the work for him. Ollie dismisses Stan as emotionally “hollow” and not a real friend at all. The more the two bicker, the more apparent it becomes that they can’t do without each other. Director John S Baird wrings every last drop of pathos he can from his material as we take an affectionate look at two of the best-loved figures in film history, are seen here at their lowest ebb. They’re getting old. They’re no longer bankable as movie stars. However, as the film also shows, the magic between them never dissipates. They can’t be split either. Stan & Ollie won’t ever have you in hysterics, but its account of the comedians in their twilight years and is very touching and well done.