One of the best things that a film can do is a provide the necessary content to elicit a genuine smile, to put someone at ease and indirectly tell them that everything is going to be okay. Though it’s not the most remarkable film you’ll ever see, Stan & Ollie manages to create such an emotional response that it manages to help all your problems wither away for a brief moment in time. It’s one of the better pieces of escapism in entertainment you’ll see for quite some time.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Jon S. Baird
Written By: Jeff Pope
Once two titans in the industry, Stan Laurel (Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (Reilly) have fallen on hard times in recent years. Dealing with aging and diminished popularity, the comedy duo sets out for a theater tour in the U.K. Slowly, as they continue their travels through different cities, showing their classic bits, their popularity begins to rise once again. However, the two can’t seem to shake their discretions and arguments from years ago which throws a wrench into the entire trip.
A Quick History Lesson
For those of you that aren’t well-versed in your knowledge of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Laurel & Hardy is one of the most iconic, classic comedy groups in all of entertainment. Like many others of their time, Laurel and Hardy utilized a ton of slapstick and heightened actions so that their humor could register to those watching their films. Another piece of their iconic status was unquestionably their differences in stature. Stan Laurel was fairly average in terms of height and weight, but he looked like a child next to Oliver Hardy, who stood at 6’1″ and weighed over 280 lbs. I like to think of them as their era’s Penn and Teller, but without the magic — obviously.
Over the course of their careers together, Laurel and Hardy starred in 106 film projects (shorts and features). After Hardy’s death in 1957, Laurel refused to appear on screen ever again, though he did contribute a bit as a writer.
Stan & Ollie is Lovely Tip of the Cap to Old Hollywood
Nostalgia is such a crutch in film these days. Arguably the worst culprit of them all is none other than Hollywood itself. So many movies about movies are championed as the best of the best, yet many of these films are nothing more than emotionless recreations of things you love or admire. Think about it: when was the last time you heard anyone talk about The Artist other than when discussing that no talks about it anymore?
Stan & Ollie is one of the better examples of recreating popular moments in film history for a film’s own benefit. Coogan and Reilly are nothing short of delightful as they channel the schticky, theatrical performance of these industry leaders. It’s such a pleasure to watch John C. Reilly ratchet up the intentional cheese in quaint slapstick routines with Coogan acting as his subdued partner. These are two of the funnier men in Hollywood, and using their talents as a visual bow to a past generation is nothing short of perfection.
These great comedic set pieces tell great mini-stories, highlighting the duo’s friendship, apprehensions, and history together as performers. Stan & Ollie excels as a thoroughly entertaining history lesson in this regard. Though I had prior knowledge of Laurel and Hardy, it certainly wasn’t extensive. I’d like to think that the film manages to teach without ever feeling pretentious or tedious.
John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan are Delightful
The film is predominantly about the friendship between Laurel and Hardy, depicting the issues they faced together in show business as older performers. Similar to the real figures they are playing, you would think that Coogan and Reilly have been acting alongside each other for a while now with how they interact in Stan & Ollie. Each carries a sense of comfort with the other that you’d see in many long-term friendships, the type where each person is completely at ease in how they act. I would characterize both their performances as utterly charming. They seem to capture that jolly 1950’s spirit in a calming, relaxed manner.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful physical transformations by both Coogan and Reilly. Reilly in particular is quite the sight, sporting one of the more realistic fat suits in recent memory. (Darkest Hour ain’t got nothing on Stan & Ollie!)
After approximately 100 minutes of watching these two you’ll want to either stand up and cheer or smile until your mouth just can’t take it anymore. Or both!
Stan & Ollie is a Bit Light on Conflict
Honestly, I would have been totally fine with a light tour through the older years of Laurel and Hardy. Stan & Ollie is at its best when it’s light and heartfelt — which it is for a large majority of its runtime — but I found its central conflict a bit contrived. The conflict itself is handled with such grace and endearment, but the journey to get to that point felt a bit silly within the world of the film, no matter if it’s factual or not. It felt like a producer’s note in order to up the drama, when something more organic — or even a device with less stakes attached — would have worked just fine.
It’s fairly minor in the grand scheme of things, however, as Stan & Ollie is largely sweet and lovable.
Stan & Ollie is nothing short of a pure delight from start to finish. It’s like a warm hug with the perfect amount of hold, leaving you perfectly content and happy with a warm, fuzzy feeling. The film uses old Hollywood in a manner that simply brings a smile to your face as you look back at how entertainers used to carry themselves. Yet, unlike many films that look at the golden years of Hollywood, Stan & Ollie is perfectly relatable, operating on a level of universality that allows its old-timey feel to act as a fun element rather than a crutch.
Many people often search for films that are going to make them smile, and I think Stan & Ollie is one that everyone should add to their happy film rotation.
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