Director Jon S. Baird
Screenplay Jeff Pope
Starring Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Nina Arianda, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Rufus Jones
Stan & Ollie is the story of Laurel & Hardy, but not so much about their whole incredible career. It catches these characters in the twilight. The light that remains is enough to illuminate how special they were, even while knowing it was not going to last.
This story starts with the duo on top of the world during the recording of Way Out West. They’re on top of the world, but there is a fissure that forms in the edifice of their bond. Fast forward 16 years later and they’re landing in the U.K. for a tour on their way to hopefully getting one last shot at the big screen. They embark on what seems to be a small tour at first, until it becomes clear that the two still have something of a special connection which starts to bring bigger crowds and bigger venues.
There are no intense outbursts in Stan & Ollie. The two entertainers are old friends, with too much water under the bridge to think it won’t withstand the withering of their career. Their routine is still exceptional. They have everything down to the most subtle gestures for even the most inane daily activity. As often as they have done these gimmicks, it never comes across as gimmicky. Nealy everyone who sees them appreciates their gentle buffoonery for what it is: art
The lack of intensity is not indicative of the underlying emotion between the two. They have problems with money, addiction and health. This is not your typical Vegas years biopic. The habits have been kicked for the most part, as is shown when we get to meet the wives.
Henderson and Arianda are a magical combination as well. Each representing the interests of their husbands, yet being unique individuals as well. There is some amazing work done in writing and acting.
Some of the best moments comedy wise involve Ida. Her brusque demeanor is refreshingly honest and biting.
Reilly is in great form. The makeup looks for like rubber than actual skin. He captures the mannerisms and the silent fear of one who knows he’s running out of time. The gentle rapport with Henderson and Coogan as the two loves of his life show a man who’s lived with more appreciation for his success, even if he has little materially to show for it.
Coogan has never been better. His subtle Laurel is as nuanced as the actor ever appeared to be in life. His lugubrious countenance hides an intelligence that is the driving force behind everything. He doesn’t have the ego to match his talent. He just loves his partners, Hardy and Ida. Every move he makes is in efforts to keep them happy and together with him.
There is very little to criticize in this film. It’s purpose is to give us a close up view of the duo at a crucial time so that we could get an understanding of what it is that made their relationship seem so magical. The film is a joy, ultimately, even if we know its a last right and their blaze of glory is more of a subtle dance routine in a small theater in Ireland.
(****1/2 out of *****)