Growing up, most of what I did involved watching films. Either that or wrestling.
My parents took me to ‘the pictures’ on a regular basis and I watched a lot of the same films on repeat. Films like: The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Toy Story and… Laurel and Hardy.
Acquiring my love for the duo from my father, Mr. Stan Laurel and Mr. Oliver Norvell Hardy (the third) were such a commonality in my younger years, I’d go so far as to call them heroes of mine.
Hearing of the ‘Stan & Ollie project’ back in 2016, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Seeing two of my heroes brought to the big screen made me hopelessly impatient as I knew I had to see it straight away – despite the project being only at the pre-production stage at this point.
Of course, I was wary, John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan didn’t have an easy task ahead of them and to please loyal fans like myself would be one hell of a feat. But with every new piece of material I set my eyes on before release (set photos, trailers), I felt reassured that Stan and Ollie were in safe hands.
And I’m happy to say, the movie truly lived up to the hype I created in my own mind, paying tribute to the two legends in beautiful fashion.
It’s packed with references to some of the duo’s most famous work (Way Out West, County Hospital) and it truly dives into the personal lives of the men behind the screen – even teaching the most knowledgeable fans a thing or two about the pair. Due to such grand fan service, I think it’ll do just as good of a job pleasing other fans as it did me and maybe even make some new ones along the way.
The story follows Laurel and Hardy at the tail-end of their career as they travel across the UK on a stage tour in preparation for their new film. It’s a rather straightforward story, told in a similar manner – not making anything too fancy as the film sticks to a pretty minimalist style. Due to the more straightforward style of filmmaking, it seems sensible to focus on when Laurel and Hardy were at the top of their game as it allows the subtler points of the film to truly stand out.
As for the portrayal of Stan and Ollie, Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly come out equally with not only two of the best performances of the year, but two of the best performances of both men’s respective careers. Steve Coogan makes a fantastic Laurel, really shining when it comes to the gags of the film. But John. C. Reilly really steals the show, becoming Hardy before our very eyes. And although Reilly may have just given the better portrayal, overall both men’s performances were such a brilliant simulation of the real thing, it sent me into a state of euphoria. I smiled every time they were on screen.
While Coogan and Reilly are certainly the show stealers, that’s not to say other performances in the film aren’t as excellent. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda are brilliant as both men’s partners and their chemistry together rivals that of Coogan and Reilly’s. It adds a whole new layer that the audience may not have known they wanted, but will accept it with open arms by the end.
The only real complaint from me is that occasionally it felt a little repetitive. However, just as this problem arises, thankfully it switches things up. Besides this, Rufus Jones’ character and performance both seem extremely one-note. His role is integral to the story in showing how desperate Stan and Ollie are to keep doing what they love, but he seems to merely show up occasionally, say something and then smile. His character is a simple one, not really needing to be all that complex, but the writing leaves a lot more to be desired.
Overall, despite the great script and the extraordinary performances, the most considerable strength of Stan & Ollie is its passion.
You can tell every single person involved cared deeply and that’s such a special (and often rare) thing to come by. Through this passion, every member of the cast and crew makes a loving tribute to both Laurel and Hardy through the medium that meant the most to them – while also making one of the best films of the year.
It’ll make you cry, it’ll undoubtedly make you laugh and it’ll make fans out of newcomers while pleasing loyal fans too.