Stan & Ollie

stan1This was lovely. Strangely life-affirming and warm but also sad and melancholic, it’s a brilliant film about two ageing comedy legends in the twilight of their careers and lives. I could sit here gushing about this film but I’ll try not to. Suffice to say that I found it to be refreshingly entertaining and featured really surprisingly fine performances. Both John C Reilly (Oliver Hardy) and Steve Coogan (Stan Laurel) exhibit a genuine affection for the characters, the performances transcending mere impersonations and becoming something more intimate, more genuine, more truthful. They lift the film up beyond the basic docudrama attention of the script into something a little more, well, mythic. Laurel and Hardy in their heyday were not mere superstars, certainly not as we accept the term for modern performers- it’s impossible to contrast their world, and the popularity of cinema and their films worldwide, to anything of today’s world, in just the same way as British tv comedy duo Morecambe and Wise at their peak have no comparable equivalent in 2019.

After a brief prologue set at the end of their Hollywood prime, the film moves forward some sixteen years and tells the story of the end of their decline into, if not obscurity, then almost even sadder irrelevance. It is 1952, and the pair have embarked upon a British tour while Stan tries unsuccessfully to convince someone, anyone, to finance another Laurel & Hardy picture (we are offered bittersweet glimpses of what might have been with their Robin Hood comedy). The depths of their decline become painfully clear as they lodge in cheap, seedy hotels and appear before sparse audiences in small, low-rent theatres. The sense of tragedy is almost palpable, that they could have come to this, considering the affection and popularity they enjoy today. It feels unfair, that what we may consider today to be Cinema Gods of some Golden Age could be reduced to this. It’d be like watching a seventy-year-old Elvis singing to a largely-deserted matinee crowd on a Cruise liner.

Time has moved on, and left them behind, left to perform snippets of their old film performances before largely empty theatres that of course are themselves largely gone today. The film serves as a reminder to us all that the world can leave us behind, even the most successful, and depicts the two comedians enduring this with some grace and fortitude. How true this was, well, I don’t really care. I prefer to think this film is 100% true but it doesn’t really matter, it’s a great, heartfelt and entertaining story led by two genuinely great performances. A legend that befits the legendary, I think.

4 thoughts on “Stan & Ollie

  1. Tom

    Ah glad you enjoyed this too. I actually had to look back on my own site to see when I saw this movie, turns out it was earlier this year — February. With that in mind, it’s going to still be among my favorites of the year come December. I just loved this portrayal of comedy geniuses so much. The insight I gained from how they brainstormed some of their gags was just wonderful. Then there were the performances themselves, and I’ll just say this — it’s rare for me to get teary-eyed in anything but Coogan really got me with the way he just appears behind that door at the end. There was no doubt in my mind the actors adored their characters, and really grew close with each other while making this movie. John C Reilly again proves his versatility

    1. Absolutely agree with you mate, a wonderful movie. Old-fashioned movie-making with a good story, direction, acting (it’ll never catch-on, alas). Sure it could have been a cynical effort showing a warts-and-all story but instead it was just, well, respectful and emotional and had me quite swept up in it. I’d really like to see this get some recognition at awards season, but maybe that boat has already passed, I don’t know..

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