ENTERTAINMENT ONE FILMS (2019)

 

Director: Jon S. Baird

 

Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Nina Arianda, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Rufus Jones

“Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.”

 

The Classic era of Hollywood gave us many enduring legends and, in terms of comedy, Laurel and Hardy were the best of the lot. One of a handful of duos who can be identified simply by their silhouettes, the comedy coupling are known around the world for their gags, dancing, and singing. Stan & Ollie brings the story of their renaissance to screen – their attempts to kick-start their film careers with a long, gruelling tour of Britain after some turbulent years in the wilderness. Despite separations, disagreements, financial issues, and personal conflicts, the pair remained inseparable and Jon S. Baird brings this sense of love to the screen excellently.

Biopics can tend to either be flagrantly fictional, saccharine in their portrayals or simply just bloody awful. Jon S. Baird manages to infuse a real momentum to his story (based on biographical writings) along with some real emotion whilst also sticking rigidly to a fairly formulaic structure. Stepping into the legendary shoes are Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy – and it manages to be a team-up from heaven. Both performers capture the nuances and mannerisms of their respective characters so very well and together they bring a genuine authenticity to their roles. You believe these guys have been through the wringer together but remain friends through it all. Alongside them, Rufus Jones smarms it up as the duos UK promoter Bernard Delfont, Threatening to steal the show are wives of Laurel and Hardy, Shirley Henderson as Lucille, Hardy’s sniffy partner, and Nina Arianda in the role of Ida Laurel, a brash, loud actress who is seemingly always up for a disagreement.

 

The duos routines are affectionately and immaculately recreated, all down to their very last dance together, and it’s clear how much the cast and crew appreciate their subjects. There are some moments of directorial flair to admire (including a splendid expository opening tracking shot following Laurel and Hardy from backlot to stage) and Laurie Rose’s cinematography visually and aesthetically captures the duos varying moods excellently. You won’t find anything explosive about the duo here, this isn’t an exposé, and some of the events may not be entirely true-to-life but this is something biopics tend to do with fairly alarming regularity. It’s the performances that keep everything interesting, from the quieter, contemplative/poignant moments to the louder disagreements and, despite a small lull in the middle act, there’s more than enough here to engage and entertain even the most hardened of souls.

 

Stan & Ollie isn’t an action-packed, warts-and-all biopic. Far from it (thank God). Instead, it’s a loving, affectionate celebration of two of comedies greatest minds captured majestically by Coogan and Reilly that never strays into sycophancy. It’s just really bloody nice.

March 18th 2019

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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