Directed by: Jon S. Bird
Cast: John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Nina Arianda, Rufus Jones
Back in 1937 Laurel and Hardy were at the peak of their powers but their friendship was starting to creek. Strangely Stan Laurel was out of contact with the studio. He wanted a new and better deal. Oliver Hardy was still under contract and seemed to be happy with his current deal. With the pair at loggerheads it seems they had a dodgy working relationship. Stan & Ollie picks up 16 years later in 1953 where the comedy legends are touring the UK, trying to sort out their differences. They are now dealing with health issues, years of pent up anger and the decline in the size of their audiences. Can they mend their broken friendship, find the old magic and possibly make a new feature film, a Robin Hood parody, Robin ‘Em Good.
Steve Coogan plays Stan Laurel and John C Reilly is Oliver Hardy. Both actors’ careers are known for being funny but both are also to known for there more serious work. Reilly, in particular, has forged a successful career bouncing between the two. Here they are cast to perfection, both capturing the spirit and look of the famous duo. Coogan as Laurel is the businessman of the pair. He writes the scripts and comes up with new sketches. He always wants to be on show. Reilly’s Hardy is more concerned with his life and his wife, he is happy for Laurel to look after the other side of the work.
It is hard to separate the two leads. Coogan and Reilly share chemistry which is hard to fake. It is believable that they have been friends for years. They share good times and they share bad times. You are with them every step of the way. Coogan’s slender build helps mirror Stan Laurel’s persona. John C. Reilly also inhabits Oliver Hardy. He does have some help with decent prosthetics, especially in the later years. At first, it is a little jarring but he builds such a rounded character any concerns are quickly forgotten.
The supporting cast are also excellent. Rufus Jones as British producer Bernard Delfort is excellent value. He does get a lot of the of the best lines. Luckily, Stan and Ollie aren’t the only double on show. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda almost steal the movie from under everyone. As Delfont says at one point ‘Two double acts for the price of one’. Henderson and Arianda are the famous duo’s wives, Lucille and Ida. The pair turns up midway through and really inject a much-needed boost just at the point when the movie starts flagging.
Director John S. Baird wrings every last drop out of Bill Pope script (he also wrote Philomena with Coogan). This isn’t a film full of jokes. What it does have are funny situations performed by a strong cast. It has nods to their earlier career. A scene where they are dragging a giant truck up a flight of stairs is classic Laurel and Hardy.
Stan & Ollie is tender and funny. It captures real moments of heart, It is a little cheesy in places but the strong cast keeps the film interesting. The film is a great way to introduce a younger audience to real comic geniuses.