Director: Jon S. Baird
Cast: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Rufus Jones
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Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. Any film that brings the two together is a promising one – even more so when the two are playing Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
Stan & Ollie catches up with the comedy legends not in their prime but after their careers have peaked. We join them as they go on a tour of British towns and music halls, while hoping to scrape together the funds for another motion picture. It’s a deftly chosen focus for a deliberately narrow biopic; their less-than-funny real life situation is wonderfully observed by Jeff Pope’s script, which takes slapstick stunts like suitcases going downstairs and bread rolls being thrown and turns them into melancholic beats of frustration.
Coogan and Reilly are impeccable as the legendary double-act, the former hiding a prickly selfishness behind the boyish smile and innocently raised eyebrows, the latter sullenly under-appreciated as the gurning and grumping straight man. When they’re on-stage, though, the duo kindle the flames of an iconic comedy partnership, sparkling with wit, pinpoint physical timing and a carefree familiarity. There are laughs in their interactions with slippery producer Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), as he books them into tiny theatres with small crowds, and howls in their dealings with wives Lucille (Shirley Henderson) and Ida (Nina Arianda) – a double act in their own right – but it’s the affection between two old friends, which is both shaped by and expressed through their skits and dances, that warms your heart.
The sight of them dancing together on stage will have you welling up with tears by the end – you can see the weight of the world shrug off their shoulders once they step into their personas, and it’s that delicate shift, in poise, in performance and in philosophical outlook that Stan & Ollie captures so winningly. It’s the magic of entertainment, pure and simple.