Movie Review: Stan and Ollie
PG | 1h 37min
Director: Jon S. Baird
Writer: Jeff Pope
Stars: John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson
by Jason Koenigsberg
Between the era of the Marx Bros. and the reign of Abbot and Costello the team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were the kings of comedy. Stan and Ollie is a tribute to their legacy of comedy and their friendship. It opens up with the titles and a brief overview of their history and that in 1937 Laurel and Hardy were the biggest comedy duo in the world. The first shot is a glorious and complex one that lasts several minutes. It opens up on the hats of our two main characters, an important prop in their comedy bits then moves back to reveal Stan and Ollie talking to each other from behind sitting in their dressing room in front of mirrors. We see the reflections of the other persons face in the opposite mirror as if to say they are one and the same. You cannot have one without the other. Then without cutting they get up and the camera follows them down the hallway then outside in a studio backlot as they continue to discuss and establish themselves as characters giving the audience background information with natural dialogue. After walking a while they end up on the set of their movie and we meet their boss producer Hal Roach (played by Danny Huston) and only when the director says action and they start dancing does the movie cut to a different shot of them. It is an elaborate one and one of the best long tracking shots in recent memory.
The movie then jumps from the prime of their careers in 1937 Hollywood to the twilight of the duo in 1953 England where the pair are down on their luck and trying to get a movie made as well as a promotional tour through the UK. The movie deftly combines comedy with drama as the team goes through a tough time in their careers that puts a strain on their partnership as well as their marriages. The comedic moments in Stan and Ollie are golden many of which pay homage and reference to scenes from their classic movies. Coogan is perfectly cast as Stan Laurel to the point that it is impossible to think of another actor that could duplicate his performance and John C. Reilly under so much make up steals so many of the funny and serious scenes he shares with Coogan it is a testament to how gifted of an actor he truly is. Both performances are what make Stan and Ollie succeed and they needed to have believable chemistry and comradery for the movie to work as seamlessly as it does.
The visual gags are funny, the dialogue is believable and pierces the heart when it needs to. The direction was also superb with the cinematography using mirrors and reflections in moments that illustrate how our characters are feeling. The film does drag a little bit near the end, it falls victim to the Lord of the Rings effect where it could have ended several times earlier before the final curtain call and it would have worked just as well. Stan and Ollie is a loving tribute to one of the greatest comedy duos of all time and the performances are so outstanding that it makes one wish Coogan and Reilly would reunite and actually remake one of their classic films like The Music Box (1932) or Saps at Sea (1940). Stan and Ollie is an easy film to recommend and hopefully, it opens up younger audiences to the comedic geniuses of Laurel and Hardy so audiences can discover or rediscover their work.
Check out the full movie of The Music Box, their Oscar-winning short film and arguably their finest work.