Obviously you should never judge a film by it’s trailer, many of them are sloppily edited and don’t give you a real flavour for what the film will be really like, but I was originally put off by Stan & Ollie because it seemed so trite and by the numbers, seeing the duo doing okay and then having a big fight and falling out, which wasn’t the kind of film I wanted to see about two of the best comedians who have ever graced the silver screen.
Thankfully it is yet another case of “Shite trailer / really great film” as this is a lovely and sweet effort, all about the duo in their later years when their fame has faded a little and they’re forced to perform live on tour while hoping to get the funding together for a new film. Written by Jeff Pope this is easily his best work yet, he’s produced some interesting fare in the past, including Pierrepoint and Philomena, as well as being a co-writer on Cradle To Grave, but he’s also been responsible for the bland tv shows Northern Lights and it’s sequels and Essex Boys, so it was by no means guaranteed he’d deliver the goods.
Thankfully he has as the script is sharp, touching and witty, but it wouldn’t be anything without the amazing performances from John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan. Again the trailer suggested they might not be that great but they truly are, they capture the spirit of the characters perfectly and their recreations of classic scenes is shockingly impressive, the amount of work which must have gone in to their takes on the roles is enormously commendable and though Coogan can occasionally be a quite mannered performer he loses himself in the role completely and makes for an incredibly sympathetic lead, even if at times Laurel could demand an awful lot from his co-star.
Plot wise it’s not the most innovative thing, and facts have been played with in a slightly fast and loose way. But for once it’s not an issue as there’s nothing outrageously false here, just certain moments have been made to seem more dramatic than they really were, like the idea that when they first played the UK audiences were small until they started doing PR, whereas in reality they were a huge success from the get go. I’m not complaining though as it’s a minor aspect of the film, and there’s real joy to be had from seeing them suddenly attract the love and attention from British crowds and start to play bigger and better venues.
Fortunately the predictable shit bit where they have an argument and no longer speak to each other is dealt with quickly and only takes up about ten minutes screen time before the boys are back together again and closer than ever, despite Hardy’s failing health. Though suitably tense the ending where they perform one final time is filled with beautifully funny moments, and again Coogan and Reilly deserve an colossal amount of praise for pulling it off so gloriously. There’s also another double act in the film who should be applauded for being so fantastic, that of Laurel and Hardy’s wives, Lucille (Shirley Henderson) and Ida (Nina Arianda) who bicker throughout in a delightful manner but are there for each other when it really matters.
If there’s any slight issues it’s that occasionally John C. Reilly’s fat make up looks a little fake, with the skin looking far too fresh and not affected by age, and the direction is initially a little stodgy, but these are easy to overlook and the film is an extremely touching ode to friendship, one which survived for decades despite the difficulties of working within the Hollywood system. It’s a rare example of an exceedingly gentle and alluring film, and an exuberant celebration of two of the most talented comedians the world has ever seen.