Review: Stan & Ollie

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A very simple yet sentimental movie, about growing old and still enjoying what you do.

Set between the 1930s and 1950s, the film follows the famous comedy double act as they enter their winter years. Coping with their incredible fame shrinking as the world moves on, and manage the complexities of career and personal lives.

Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy were an incredible British comedy double act in the 1930s, widely known for their Chaplin-esque slapstick comedy and dancing acts. Stan & Ollie, directed by Jon S. Baird (who also directed Filth, another great British movie), stars Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly in the main roles. This film is a delight just for these two in the roles; the casting is impeccable as Coogan and Reilly sometimes vanish completely into their characters.
They aren’t the only ones either, beside them are Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda as Lucille Hardy and Ida Kitaeva Laurel respectively. These two are just as strong, if not stronger as I felt they often delivered more of the laughs than the two leads. Especially Arianda, whose deadpan Russian countenance dominates every scene she’s in, especially with Coogan reacting off of her performance.
Really, Coogan and Reilly are given the heavier work; representing two friends who have bonded through their careers and seemingly little more. We see them strained, quarrelling like an old married couple, burdened by past betrayals, yet doggedly sure they are just as popular as they have always been. It is a sad affair, ultimately, watching two men fight an unwinnable battle, with bystanders wincing at their attempts.

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In that respect, showing them at the aftermath of their popularity is perhaps a wise move, in terms of reaching a wider current audience. While to say that the film makes fun of the two men’s art form would be grossly inaccurate, it does spend its first act showing them as losers. Two men of comedy doing little more than repetitive slapstick gags in front of twenty people.
But of course, we see them regain their strengths and their brotherhood with each other… and even the most unknowing of audience member should be brought along for the ride. This reviewer certainly didn’t know that much about the duo.

But, at ninety minutes long, it can feel a little sparse. It is very serviceable in terms of pacing and storytelling, and the tone is spot on, but seeing the words: “Sixteen Years Later” in any film is quite daunting. It would have been nice to see more of their history played out, perhaps a little more of their individual natures and how this aided the story’s turmoil.

But as it is, it is very effective. The two actors work exceptionally well together and a history feels present despite not being overly shown. You learn that Laurel is a career-type, always working, always looking for the next show: “The show must go on”, while Hardy is more indulgent, he knows a good thing when he has it and wants to live life to the fullest. The two are strongest together, yet one’s failings do not match the other’s ideology. It is a little package, but it does everything to generate drama and escalation.

Most importantly, it is emotionally resonant; there wasn’t any performance found lacking or feeling misplaced. What is said, and not said, in scenes creates plenty of tension, making for a final act that is both sad and immensely tense, but also endearing and heartwarming.

Perhaps not a cinema-worthy experience, but certainly one that deserves a watch!

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