Stan & Ollie review
I like to consider myself a student of film. No matter how many classic and modern movies I watch, there's always going to be more that I haven't seen. I haven't seem the majority of John Wayne westerns. I haven't seem a lot of Hitchcock thrillers. I haven't even seen the majority of Stanley Kubrick films (and I love his movies). Add another to the list is work of comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. I've certainly seen their picture whenever "classic Hollywood" is brought up. Their usually seen amongst the other comedic greats like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and the Three Stooges.
One thing that they all share is that they were each prominent comedians that were once the biggest names. Like with modern comedians, they all have to evolve and find new ways to be surprising. It's harder as a group, as they also have to be consistently in sync and willing to update their act. This is why silent stars struggled with sound, shorts stars had to figure out how to expand, and even the eventuality that the act has to end. In the case of Laurel and Hardy, their final tour is documented in Stan & Ollie.
In 1953, comedians Stan Laurel (played by Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (played by John C. Reilly) are on another comedy tour, this time in England and Ireland. They know their act is seen as passé and dated, but hope that the nostalgia factor will help sell tickets. Laurel is hoping that the success of it can help get their next movie going, a comedic retelling of Robin Hood. Problems come when their marketing goes poorly, causing half empty small theaters. It doesn't help that Oliver's health has deteriorated and is morbidly obese, having difficulty performing his old stunts.
After they agree to make more appearances, their popularity climbs and they starts having more sellout shows. Their success brings hope that the Robin Hood project into fruition. But it also brings back past issues, including a time in which Oliver didn't join Hardy in signing with Fox studios back in 1937. This had made Stan bitter about their temporary breakup. This had also made Oliver think about what was best for each other. This and more were brought up as the two seek to finish the tour, even with Oliver's health continuing to decline.
I should mention that if your looking for a large, in depth look into the career of Oliver and Hardy, your not going to get that here. Unlike Chaplin, which did do that, Stan & Ollie is a smaller, more relaxed look at a moment that was clearly important to the two. In fact, much of the pacing and plot is similar to Steve Coogan's The Trip, except with these big stars reflecting on their choices. Audiences are either going to get into to this slower journey or may find themselves board. I was personally engaged with the trip and the issue they brought up.
What helps is that both Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are phenomenal in their roles. Steve fits in well with Laurel's understandable desire to keep going and John looks like he's been through hell, and yet continues his act because he loves doing it. I'll give a lot of credit to the makeup department for recreating their iconic look. It really felt like watching the two old duo back from the dead.
With the characters ready to go, it'll surprise everyone that the plot, though with a goal of finishing it, goes at a slower pace they'd expect this kind of project. That's completely fine as long as what they talk about is interesting. The bad news is that it doesn't dwell too much into their personalities (primarily Laurel), which can sometime cause their discussions to run off into dull territory. There's a moment when the two have an argument and I was wondering if I had missed something, as it felt rushed. There aren’t too many of these moments, but this is where it's likely going to lose some people. The good news is that it makes up for at least discussing the duo's intention of continuing the act and whether the mistakes of the past could change anything.
I'll give this four Laurel and Hardy pictures out of five. I was happy with the product and hopes this proves that John C. Reilly is something that can be known for playing a good character. This is also proof that you can do different versions of the biopic, and not just as a three hour in depth look. You just need to make them interesting. Give it a watch and maybe Stan & Ollie will make you want to look at their old material.