LOVING TRIBUTE TO LAUREL & HARDY
Movie Review – Stan & Ollie
Review by Ray Schillaci
Look, I’m going to voice my opinion right here and now. I’ve been a Queen fan from the beginning. Saw them twice in concert. Bohemian Rhapsody got two things right: the casting, Rami Malek was great, and recreating the Live Aid performance. Other than that, it came across like the usual music biopic we’ve seen far too many times. That being said, the idea of Rhapsody being nominated for Best Picture is B.S. It only demonstrates how The Academy has followed the tide of populism (also nominating Marvel’s Black Panther). For my money, a far lesser known film that’s received very little fanfare, but a far higher Rotten Tomatoes rating with audiences applauding was not only the better biopic of the year, but one of the ten best films of 2018, Stan & Ollie.
The film has been recognized by the Golden Globe Awards, BAFTA, National Society of Film Critics, Critics Choice Movie Awards, and the British Independent Film Awards. But, ignored by Oscar. Not even a nod for the brilliant makeup that turned actor John C. Reilly into Oliver Hardy. I cannot help but wonder if The Academy just lost interest in one of the most famous comedy duos with very few seeing it. How else could one explain the shut out of such a beautiful touching tome to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
The film starts at the zenith of their career, 1937, when they are about to make one of their most successful and funniest films, Way Out West. But, they are not exactly enjoying the fruits of their labors while both suffering through multiple alimonies, gambling, and a pending contract dispute with one of them. Stan’s contract is up and he wants to develop his own films with Oliver and walk away from one of the most successful producers back in the day, Hal Roach.
Understand, Roach developed some powerhouse talent with Laurel & Hardy, Will Rogers, the Our Gang kids, Thelma Todd and a slew of others. Stan was not past negotiating. He was willing to re-up the contract for more money for he and Oliver, but Roach wasn’t interested in giving them a raise. When Stan’s contract was up, Oliver remained under contract with Roach and continued on. The two split up. It hurt them financially and personally.
Flash forward fifteen years later, Stan makes amends with Ollie with the promise of a comeback and a new picture he’s written, a comedy version of Robin Hood. It all sounds very promising to Ollie, but the certain British producer tells them they need new exposure, hence the importance of a roadshow in the U.K. to generate interest for the film. By this time, the boys are not boys any longer, they’re men who find the tour a grueling and sometimes unpleasant experience.
Times have changed and a new younger duo have captured America’s hearts, Abbott and Costello. It seems as if people have nearly forgotten about Stan & Ollie and, to make matters worse their new British producer seems more interested in his new young talent than the comedy duo that many believed to be retired. Stan & Ollie end up having to do live publicity to generate interest in their stage show appearances. It’s sad and funny at the same time.
They are later joined by their wives, who do not care for one another, each having their own annoying and funny eccentricities. With the wives present, the boys can no longer let off steam by smoking or drinking, making the tour all the more uncomfortable. The boys even go through one hell of a public spat that nearly costs them their friendship. But, in the end, Stan & Ollie is about the power of bros. It’s sad, touching, bittersweet, funny, and reconfirms why these two were one of America’s best comedy teams.
The production is handsomely mounted by director Jon S. Baird who is able to plant us perfectly from the ’30’s to the ’50’s. He does not wear his heart on his sleeve while bringing the duo to life. His comic timing is nearly as good as the originals. Stan & Ollie’s exploits are written with just a touch of schmaltz by Jeff Pope who shared writing duties with Steve Coogan on the 2013 Oscar nominated Philomena. He notably touches our funny bone without hammering it home, and manages to do the same with our heartstrings.
What makes this film stand out amongst so many others is the uncanny performances by Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy. Coogan and Reilly do not imitate. They embody the spirit of this brilliant comedy team and get to the real heart of these two men. To see both of them shut out of the Oscars is a real shame. But, they are not the only stars of the show. Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy and Nina Arianda as Ida Kitaeva Laurel are hysterical as the disgruntled wives. Much to the credit of Pope’s characters, Henderson and Arianda not only play for laughs, but have us care about their husbands as well, and for good reason.
Yes, it may be a tad slow in the beginning. And, for those unfamiliar with Laurel and Hardy, it may take some adjustment. But, this film wins its audience over in the end with rarely a dry eye in the house. For this is about the celebration of genius, friendship, and the fickleness of fame. Stan & Ollie captures our hearts and the spirit of the legendary comedy duo. I recommend you take the trip down this joyful memory lane.
Directed by: Jon S. Baird
Release Date: December 28, 2018
Run Time: 98 Minutes
Distributor: SONY Pictures Classics