Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson
Director: Jon S. Baird
Running Time: 97 mins
Stan & Ollie is a British film about legendary comedy duo Laurel & Hardy, and their tour of the United Kingdom at the later stage of their career, when their immense success and fame achieved in Hollywood has dried up.
Laurel & Hardy live on in the memory for so many to this day, but many others don’t know the story of the men behind the silly double act, and Stan & Ollie does a brilliant job at bringing that story to life, with a solid and engaging biographical structure, furthered by two fantastic central performances from Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, as well as perfect comic sensibilities that bring a good bit of fun to an already delightful film.
Above all, the film succeeds in its core intention, and that’s to tell an engrossing and often moving story that details the later years of one of cinema’s greatest icons. I’ve never seen a Laurel & Hardy picture, and before watching this film, I knew next to nothing about the two men, but Stan & Ollie is a biography that hooks you right from the start, with a swift and effective introduction to their legendary status, before moving into the enthralling story that takes place as the pair tour Britain throughout 1953.
Although it starts off on somewhat of a sappy, light-hearted note, something that many BBC Films often tend to suffer from, the film soon develops into an engrossing story about the hard work and raw emotion that goes into show business, with the perennial comedy duo going through a series of ups and downs as they try to revitalise their careers, all the while struggling with all manner of personal problems that makes the job even harder.
From the second act onwards, the film brilliantly balances the positive and uplifting nature of its story with the more dramatic and often negative elements of the reality. In that, it’s not plain sailing for Laurel and Hardy all the way to the end, and the film does a great job at grabbing you with their various conflicts and clashes behind the scenes, yet continuing to emphasise the strength of their friendship through thick and thin, something that makes for a genuinely moving and undeniably delightful watch.
The other way in which Stan & Ollie works so well is its use of comedy throughout. Too many biopics ignore the essence of their main subjects in order to make a serious, Oscar-worthy movie, but Stan & Ollie doesn’t forget the world of comedy that its lead duo made their mark in, and although it doesn’t start off perfectly, the movie soon develops into a thoroughly funny watch, combining full routines from Laurel & Hardy with a well-written and energetic screenplay, all of which is sure to make you laugh and smile throughout, while still appreciating the two men’s history more and more.
The final area where the film is so successful is its performances. With a strong screenplay and good directing that balances serious biopic drama with excellent humour and light-hearted mishaps, the film is a great watch, but for me, it all comes together in the performances, which balance all of that and more from beginning to end.
Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are fantastic as Laurel & Hardy throughout, with Coogan putting in a likable and thoroughly convincing performance, while Reilly matches that likability and brings some excellent comic sensibilities to the table along with a strongly dramatic and emotional performance. The two have an excellent rapport right the way through, and it’s their performances that make Laurel & Hardy such endearing and fascinating characters to follow in this movie.
And on top of that, as the movie itself says, you get two double acts for the price of one, with two brilliant supporting performances from Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda, who play the comedy duo’s wives. While Coogan and Reilly are fantastic throughout, Henderson and Arianda’s very lively turns often even outdo the two lead actors, playing two caring yet forceful spouses that form a big part in their husbands’ lives, with scene-stealing humour throughout that adds greater range and entertainment to the whole movie.
Overall, I really liked Stan & Ollie. Not only an engrossing biography, but a sweet and genuinely delightful look at the life of two cinematic legends, furthered by strong dramatic depth that’s balanced brilliantly with light-hearted and fun humour throughout, all of which comes together thanks to great writing, strong directing, and a quartet of fantastic performances, which is why I’m giving it an 8.1.