I loved every minute of Stan & Ollie, one of the most lovingly rendered biopics I've had the pleasure of seeing in quite some time and a film that I found myself wanting to watch again almost immediately as the closing credits were winding down.
Stan & Ollie is everything I want a biopic to be. I laughed. I cried. I remembered childhood days spent watching old Laurel & Hardy classics not even realizing that Stan Laurel passed away the year I was born and several years after he and Ollie had retired due to Ollie's worsening health.
Stan & Ollie focuses on the twilight years of the comedy icons known as Laurel & Hardy, specifically following the duo through what would become their swansong comedy tour in England and Ireland. It was a tour that started off not so promisingly, their once bright stars having dimmed in the eyes of a Hollywood that had once proclaimed them the next great thing until the more business savvy Stan attempted to force a better financial deal with producer Hal Roach only to see the effort backfire.
To understand the fame of Laurel & Hardy, it's necessary to realize that together the two made over 100 films in their career and a good majority of them were considered box-office smashes. Stan & Ollie expertly captures the brilliance of Laurel & Hardy created partly out of their extraordinary comic gifts and, perhaps even moreso, their beautifully lived into affection for one another that would survive their contractual troubles and remain true until their deaths.
It has been quite a while since the immensely talented John C. Reilly has completely blown me away, but consider me blown away here with his work as the cheerfully rotund Ollie working alongside an equally impeccable Steve Coogan as the rather featherly Stan Laurel. Both Reilly and Coogan do simply exceptional here, capturing Laurel & Hardy's unique and inspired mannerisms without ever resorting to caricatures. While one could argue that Reilly's obviously fat-suited Hardy is a touch too obvious, the simple truth is I watched Stan & Ollie from beginning to end and found myself even forgetting it was Reilly behind that double-jowled make-up and extra weight. Reilly gives his best performance in years, completely and utterly immersive as the brilliantly funny and emotionally transparent Hardy. As Laurel, Coogan may even more brilliantly capture the mannerisms and eccentricities of Laurel, whose business savvy didn't always equal common sense and whose desire to be both financially and critically respected like Chaplin masked a hollowness brought achingly and beautifully to life in both quiet and more overt ways. In real life, Laurel was known for intentionally putting his home phone number in the phone book precisely because he enjoyed talking to the fans who would call his home.
Sigh. I love that.
I'm telling you - both Reilly and Coogan are simply magnificent here and should be remembered come awards season.
Much of Stan & Ollie takes place in 1953, a European stage tour supposed to lead to a chance to make one more motion picture - Rob 'Em Good, a Robin Hood parody for which Stan keeps writing material yet a film that is obviously ill-fated from point one as the "producer" is refusing to take Stan's calls. The tour itself is troubled from the get go - the old chemistry is just a wee bit off while old grudges simmer underneath the surface of lighthearted gags and occasionally bubble over. Yet, what Stan & Ollie really captures beautifully is that the closer Laurel & Hardy came to breaking apart the more evident it was that they were absolutely essential together.
Stan & Ollie also beautifully captures the pure love these two men had for performing, the film often incorporating familiar gags, at least for true fans, into their everyday encounters and in even the most casual of encounters. While there's little denying that the two men knew how to turn off their comic sensibilities, for a good majority of the time they simply chose not to do so.
Shirley Henderson (T2: Trainspotting) and Nina Arianda (Goliath) are similarly impressive as Lucille Hardy and Ida Laurel, respectively. Despite being almost criminally underwritten, the two give absolutely stellar and award-worthy turns as the two women who, much like their husbands, are nearly polar opposites yet irrevocably intertwined and impossible to imagine apart.
Kudos must be given to make-up artist Mark Coulier, whose work on Reilly as Ollie manages to create a rather remarkable, believable person rather than some fat-suited caricature of the comedy icon.
Stan & Ollie only recently snagged seven nominations in the British Independent Film Awards including Best Actor (Coogan), Best Supporting Actress (Arianda), and nods for Best Breakthrough Producer, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Makeup & Hair Design, and Best Casting.
It deserves all of 'em.
Rolfe Kent's original score is flawless, while Laurie Rose's lensing is such absolute perfection that it's easily worthy of an Oscar nod. In addition to the prosthetics created by Coulier, kudos also go to Guy Speranza for costume design, John Paul Kelly for production design, and I really just tip my hat to the entire production team.
Stan & Ollie brings back the brilliance and the innocence and warmth of a comedy era long gone, the PG-rated film reminding us that Laurel & Hardy truly were one of Hollywood's earliest bromances while the bringing to life of their classic comedy sketches will make you smile and laugh and feel a whole lot better inside.
I'm not honestly sure that Stan & Ollie really needed an entire review, because the truth is actually quite simple - I loved Stan & Ollie.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic