Stan & Ollie: LFF Film Review

I must put my hands up and admit that I didn’t know much about Laurel and Hardy, so I found Stan & Ollie, a biographical comedy-drama about the famous comedy duo, both illuminating and entertaining.

The film begins in 1937, when Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) is trying to convince his comedy partner Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) to take a stand with him against their studio for better pay, but Hardy is reluctant as he’s still in his contract. The action then jumps to 1953, when they reunite after years apart and many people assume they’ve retired because they’ve been out of action as a duo for so long. They embark on a comedy tour of theatres around the UK with the hope it will generate enough interest to finance a new movie.

I found Stan & Ollie really fascinating because I knew hardly anything about the real-life comedians. It was so much fun watching Coogan and Reilly recreate some of their gags, dances and sketches and interesting learning about their resentments towards each other behind the scenes. My favourite moments were their onstage performances, which were simply a joy to watch.

They didn’t look much like the real guys, even with Reilly’s fat suit, but they were still cast well. They both nailed the physical comedy aspect and captured some their mannerisms, for example, Coogan held his mouth in a different way than usual. I was most impressed by him as he had more emotional work and really made me feel for Stan. He really wants them to keep going and make the movie happen but he’s confronted by his feelings of betrayal towards Stan and his partner’s ailing health.

As good as they were, they were outshone on occasion by their co-stars, like Rufus Jones as theatre mogul Bernard Delfont and Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda as their wives Lucille and Ida – all three of them made me laugh the most. The leads made the laugh too, but that’s when they are putting on their act or doing tricks. The dialogue between the wives is witty and hilarious, in fact, the whole script is pretty strong. Arianda was the scene stealer – she is so cutting, takes no nonsense and says it how it is.

Stan & Ollie is something the older generation will eat up, but there is still enjoyment to be had for people who don’t know much about the duo, like me. It is nice and fun but also rather touching. A lovely slice of entertainment.

Seen as part of the 2018 BFI London Film Festival. To be released on 11 January 2019

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