Let’s talk about Stan & Ollie.
You probably know that the move from silent pictures to talkies was feared by many. No one knew if people would want to watch movies with talking in them and some thought that they would only appeal to certain markets because shockingly, not everyone in the world speaks English. Many silent stars were unable to move into this world, including Charlie Chaplin. But Laurel and Hardy were able to. They went from making classics in the silent era to some of the first talkie classics, a transition that I don’t think will ever be replicated. So yes, it is about time that someone hankering for an Oscar made a biopic.
Interestingly, the movie decides to focus on the end of Laurel and Hardy’s careers. Trying to get a movie based on Robin Hood made, the comic duo go on a tour of the UK which does not go well. Considering how many biopics focus on the journey to the top rather than the descend at the other end, it’s an interesting choice which immediately marks it as different from so many biopics that come out at this time of year.
Firstly, you have to say that Steve Coogan and John C Reilly have absolutely nailed the look as Laurel and Hardy. As soon as they are on screen, doing the dance, you can easily believe that this is Laurel and Hardy back on our screens again, this time in colour though. Both of these performances are nothing short of fantastic. When they are doing the Laurel and Hardy skits, they are superb, aping the masters perfectly and getting just as many laughs as they did back in the day. However when they revert into the being the real Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy is where they really get good. Coogan digging into a Laurel that is desperate to be as successful as he was back in the 1930s is something great while Reilly puts in one of the best performances he has in his career by playing a Hardy fighting ill health while worrying whether or not he is onto a losing thing on this tour. This is a great pair of performances that I really enjoyed.
I’ve referred to it earlier but there are a lot of Laurel and Hardy skits in the movie. Most of the time, it’s showing them on the stage performing said skits and the great response they get to it. But sometimes, they slip into a skit during their day and not for any particular reason. Such as when they get to the hotel in Newcastle and end up doing some very amusing slapstick involving the bell. This could potentially be very stupid but instead, it ends up being silly which is far better. It further shows the natural talent these two had by being able to do great bits of comedy on the spot and it shows that even though you don’t see this sort of simple, physical humour anymore our top comedic actors can still do it. Probably be better if John C Reilly did more of it considering the reaction to Holmes and Watson.
In the end, this movie is about friendship and whether it can continue after it has been heavily strained. The movie tells you early on that Laurel and Hardy actually split for a bit as they differed on their future, with Laurel trying to get more money from his contract while Hardy is happy to keep going with what he has. This is a shadow that is cast upon the entire movie. There’s always this feeling that Laurel is bitter towards Hardy for letting him down when it came to this big moment and while the movie is funny for the most part, it’s this which makes it more than just a good and worthy biopic. The movie is truly at its best when it explores the strains that their career put on their friendship. And the inevitable blow up is brilliantly done though it is painful to watch.
The movie is not perfect though as it does start plot strands which never get picked up. I can forgive Laurel and Hardy’s wives bickering as while it does not add anything to the plot, it does create a bit of extra tension, adds some colour and Nina Arianda as Ida gets to deliver some killer lines because of it. No, my problem is with Hardy’s gambling. It’s established that he has a problem with it at the start and it does come back up later. When Hardy is unable to afford a bracelet that he wants to buy for his wife, he puts a lot of money on a horse and then loses. I thought this might end up in a plot where Hardy is forced to do something he doesn’t want to get back the money he gambled away but it goes nowhere. This is completely forgotten and nothing comes of it. Maybe it’s the vestige of another script that got trashed or massively changed but left in it’s just a pointless scene. As it’s a short movie it’s forgivable, but if you can make a movie leaner do it.
Stan and Ollie is a massive love letter to the classic film stars. The movie does great work analysing the friendship and seeing what one bad incident can do for it years down the road, the saying you can fix a mirror but the cracks still show comes to mind, but this will be remembered as someone honouring a classic duo that don’t seem to get as much love as they deserve. I was well acquainted with Laurel and Hardy due to my grandad’s love of them but when it comes to this era of film star, it always felt that Charlie Chaplain got all the limelight with the likes of Buster Keaton and Abbot and Costello getting the rest. Hopefully with me not being the only one to love this movie, we can have some more Laurel and Hardy love in here.