Directed by Jon S. Baird, and starring Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy, Stan & Ollie is a thoughtful and heart-warming story of the iconic duo, set in England during what would be become their final ever tour in the 1950s.
Initially opening in 1937, we meet the pair at their peak with a wonderful opening tracking shot that takes us on a journey through studios of producer Hal Roach, following Laurel and Hardy as they discuss every-day things before filming a famous scene. Just before all that occurs though, Stan has an argument with Hal over wanting to set up by himself but there’s a problem because his contract is just about to run out but Ollie’s isn’t; this moment is vital to everything that happens because we then join them 16 years later arriving in Newcastle for the start of a UK tour.
It is 1953, it’s raining and they’ve aged, with Hardy also showing a considerable weight gain and Laurel greyer and more tired. Once inside the hotel, Coogan and Reilly show off as their characters upon checking in and the receptionist loves their little show. From the off, the couple have great chemistry and are extraordinarily similar iStan and Ollie review: Dir. Jon S. Baird (2019)n appearance to the original pair, while this might seem like an obvious, visual need, it takes a lot to even have half the spark of such a famous comedy act but Coogan and Reilly have something special, right down to original Laurel and Hardy routines plus great comedy timing, both in and out of their on-screen/movie characters.
But this story isn’t just about looking and sounding right, it’s a profound study of their friendship that is especially evident when the tour begins to sell-out and the pressures of the hectic schedule starts to take its toll, especially on Ollie’s health. There’s an undeniable truth between John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan on screen, almost to the point you forget you’re not watching Laurel and Hardy go through their changing relationship. These elements are beautifully realised, with the era also impeccably recreated.
Along the way, we’re also introduced to their wives, Lucille (played by Shirley Henderson) and Ida (Nina Arianda), who are a superb double act of their own. Clearly strong women who want the best for the men in their lives, Lucille dotes on Ollie, or ‘Babe’ as he was also known, while Nina Arianda’s Russian Ida pretty much steals the scenes she’s involved in, with a strong and witty performance who’s not afraid to say what she thinks.
With the underlying story of Stan & Ollie being one of reflection, cinematographer Laurie Rose and director Baird utilise mirrors in several scenes, thus reflecting their age, their thoughts and the conversations between one another. There’s also a deeply moving moment later on, when they’re sat in bed together after Ollie begins to accept his faltering health, that shows sincere affection for the famous pair but also gives us an honest, discerning look at these two men who really did share a deep love for each other, and understood that one without the other just wouldn’t have ever been the same.
It’s funny because while Ollie was more the straight one, and Stan the silly, it was the latter’s scripts and ideas that helped keep the pair going. It just worked and that’s why it resonates through time and comedy. Both warmhearted and bittersweet, Stan & Ollie is a brilliant tribute to two true icons of the modern era alongside truly extraordinary performances from Coogan and Reilly.
Stan & Ollie opens in UK cinemas on 11th January 2019.