“STAN & OLLIE” A COMIC GEM
A Film and TV Review by Tim Riley
“STAN & OLLIE” Rated PG Not all movies get a wide release. Some appear to be limited to large urban areas or art-house cinemas. “Stan & Ollie” falls into the category of a worthwhile film that requires a careful search for a venue or the patience to wait for the DVD release. This writer laments the immutable fact that many younger moviegoers lack familiarity with one of the world’s greatest comedy teams. Laurel and Hardy, known for their slapstick comedy, worked together to delight audiences in numerous short and feature-length films. To watch their short film “The Music Box” (a personal favorite), where the odd couple of comedy play piano movers struggling up steep steps in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles, is nothing short of delirious wonder at their comic brilliance.
“Stan & Ollie” is set mostly in 1953, long after the comedy team has retired from show business, when the duo undertakes a variety hall tour of Britain, hoping to connect with adoring fans. British actor Steve Coogan in the role of Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy is first introduced in 1937 at the peak of their film career when salary talks with producer Hal Roach (Danny Huston) go badly. A decade and a half later, the prospect for a new film deal runs into money trouble and the tour of Britain gets off to a rocky start, considering the promoter (Rufus Jones) is initially inept at his job of filling venues until publicity stunts work some magic.
The film’s story has it that Laurel and Hardy had been estranged for some time after Laurel’s falling out with Hal Roach. Reuniting in 1953 provided an opportunity for the old friends to come together to rekindle a movie career. Though on screen he was the hapless dupe to Hardy’s domineering superior, Laurel was a talented writer who wanted to turn a script spoofing Robin Hood into a film vehicle for them. The British tour seemingly offered a chance to obtain financing for their proposed cinematic comeback, but it failed to materialize even after the comedy team was selling out venues in London and elsewhere.
Eventually, the duo’s spouses arrived in London, with Laurel’s fiery Russian wife Ida (Nina Arianda) and Hardy’s solid Texan wife Lucille (Shirley Henderson) often sparring with verbal jabs that are quite amusing. During the tour, old resentments turn up for Laurel and Hardy when they engage in an argument during a reception which seems so much in character with their film personas that the party guests are left wondering if it is all a performance.
What is not an act is when Hardy takes ill while judging a beauty pageant. Hardy’s failing health serves in some respect as a way for the actors to put aside differences and solidify their old friendship. Above all, “Stan & Ollie” is a comic gem because Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly seize their roles with an authenticity that pays lofty homage to great comedians.