Director: Jon S. Baird
Starring: John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson
Release Date: December 28th, 2018
Stan & Ollie tells the comeback story of one of Hollywood’s classic comedic duos, well after their 15 minutes of fame is up.
The film’s prologue starts 16 years before their comeback tour. We’re told they are at the height of their fame and everyone wants a piece of the red-hot duo Laurel & Hardy. Unhappy with his contract, Stan makes an attempt to negotiate for a new, higher paying one and ends up severing ties with their studio. He decides to move onto another big company known as Fox. Still under contract at the old studio, Ollie can’t afford to pay hardball with contract negotiations. He’s had a number of divorces and can’t pick a winning horse to save his life, so he is forced to make a new movie without Stan. We then pick up 16 years later as the two are reunited for a reunion tour in the UK as a way to pick up hype to get funding for a new movie.
While highlighting the duo’s comeback tour is the plotline of the movie, the main narrative is that of Stan and Ollie’s friendship. Both clearly have their thoughts about one another, either betrayal and being inherently selfish. We see how the two interact after having a 16-year break and we get some insight as they report back to their wives while on tour, both asking questions about the health of the friendship.
The performances are without a doubt incredible. With the help of the makeup department, John C. Reilly transforms to an unrecognizable, unhealthy Ollie Hardy. He’s constantly sweating to do simple tasks such as walking up stairs or just doing his routine on stage, which is not physically demanding at all but he looks and acts like he just ran a marathon. Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel is also great. The perfect ying to Reilly’s yang. He’s the hard-working more uptight of the two. Clearly the mind behind all their early success, he is always writing new bits and has a level of stress that Ollie never seems to have.
The tone of the movie is lighthearted. The jokes, dated as they are, are pretty lame to a 2019 audience, but for the time we have to assume were groundbreaking. A lot of knocks on the head with fake wooden hammers, jokes about eating hard-boiled eggs — all things that we just have to take their word for that they were funny back in the day. Stan and Ollie are portrayed as PG type of guys. Their vices are briefly addressed but handled with a light sense of humor, such as Ollie’s gambling and Stan’s alcoholism, but in reality they are things that dramatically crippled their lives in one way or another.
Style-over-substance can be a common complaint with some movie goers but what about substance-over-style? More often than not straightforward biopics are all substance and little-to-no style. This makes for a pretty forgetful experience at the movies. As soon as I walked out of the theater I stopped thinking about Stan & Ollie. It’s a nice friendship love story but doesn’t offer much more than that.