Stan & Ollie is a snapshot of a period of time in Laurel and Hardy’s career I had no idea about - their touring of Great Britain at the tail end of their careers working together.
Fascinating it may be for a comedy nerd such as myself, and interested I may be in movies about making movies and entertainment, Jon S. Baird’s Stan & Ollie feels rather weak cinematically, and probably would find a better stage on television or streaming.
There’s just something about Stan & Ollie. Despite the subject matter and the larger than life personas played by the wonderfully cast Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, Stan & Ollie feels a bit second rate, like the theatres Laurel and Hardy play at the beginning of the film.
The jokes take a little while to kick in but once they do you’ll be laughing happily. Classic comedy routines are perfectly recreated by Coogan and Reilly, and you can’t help but smile at their conversations and one liners.
As the story unfolds you can see where things go, even if you don’t know the actual history of the iconic comedy duo. What Stan & Ollie banks on is the chemistry between the leads, and it’s a good gamble. Coogan and Reily disappear into their roles, and you can feel the connection between them and their friendship as you should be. When the conflict and arguments between them happen, it affects you. You know most of their story, but this interpretation of what happens behind the curtain pulls you in. It’s nice to see the cogs turn as they plan bits to perform and it’s painful to see the duo eventually row and fight.
It all just feels like a TV movie, though. It feels and looks flat, and it never really goes out of its way to go above and beyond. It’s a small flick, but it still doesn’t feel worthy of these legends of comedy. There are many a biopic and many a better movie about comedy, but it can’t be mistaken that our leads are where they should be.
Coogan and Reilly’s performances deserve so much more. Their tale will hold you, but it says something that the text that explains the following real world events will make you more emotional than the movie itself.
Stan & Ollie is a portrait of creativity and entertainment while in the shifting landscape of Hollywood, growing old, and falling out of the limelight and friendship. Its best bits are in the supporting cast or the dedication to the craft of comedy, while its worst is in how unremarkable it is. Stan & Ollie engages and amuses, but it’s not one for getting you rolling around in your seat laughing.
It’s no Laurel & Hardy.