Stan & Ollie (2018)

Rarely does a biopic of a comedian succeed in capturing the comic’s talent for being funny. In his fine portrayal in Chaplin, Robert Downey Jr inspired praise rather than chuckles. The same applied for Rod Steiger’s performance in W. C. Fields and Me, and though Donald O’Connor was sufficiently acrobatic in The Buster Keaton Story, he totally failed to suggest the Great Stone Face’s deadpan persona. Delightfully, Stan & Ollie bucks the trend. From the moment Laurel and Hardy check into a hotel on the first leg of their stage tour of Britain, it is immediately apparent that Steve Coogan and John C Reilly will provoke the same merriment and joy that so endeared the comedy team to generations of film-goers.

Not that it’s a particularly happy time for the duo. Booked into second-rate theatres and hotels, they perform to half-empty houses while forlornly holding out hope for one more picture deal. Already struggling with the physical demands of the tour, the arrival of the men’s wives goads them into evaluating the reality of their current circumstance and soon old wounds are opened up.

Coogan and Reilly are simply superb as the beloved film stars. On stage they excel at mimicking the team’s idiosyncratic traits (Laurel’s hesitant bumbling opposite Hardy’s resigned exasperation), yet it is off stage that they best demonstrate the foundation for their comedy. For despite Stan and Ollie’s constant squabbling, it is the love that these two performers shared that shone throughout their work.

Similarly, the obvious affection the makers of this biopic have for Laurel and Hardy can’t help but permeate every frame of this film.

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cast, John C Reilly, Oliver Hardy, steve coogan, stan laurel
Steve Coogan
Steve Coogan

as Stan Laurel

John C. Reilly
John C. Reilly

as Oliver Hardy

Richard Cant
Richard Cant

as Harry Langdon

Keith MacPherson
Keith MacPherson

as James Finlayson

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Joseph Balderrama James Horne, Stewart Alexander, Joe Schenck, Andy Mihalache

Biopic infers that Laurel and Hardy split after Hardy’s teaming with Harry Langdon in Elephants Never Forget (1939), whereas the team made over 10 films together before the events depicted in the film.

Movie condenses Laurel and Hardy’s three post WWII tours of the United Kingdom into one. It was during the 1947 tour that the team planned to make a Robin Hood film.

The argument between Laurel and Hardy in front of theatre-goers did not occur.

Nina Arianda, Ida Kitaeva Laurel, Shirley Henderson, Lucille Hardy, Richard Cant

Though Coogan and Reilly perform some of Laurel and Hardy’s film work on stage, including County Hospital (1932), the only recreation on a movie set comes from Way Out West.

Clip courtesy of Dimitri Bitu

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