I went into the screening of Stan & Ollie with zero-to-no knowledge on the comics Laurel & Hardy. After all, I’m the guy whose father owns every DVD release of Mrs Brown’s Boys to-date, so comedic icons aren’t my forte. (I wish I was using this as hyperbole. I’m not. He wants them on Blu-ray now.)
Until Stan & Ollie, my only understanding of the pair was that they were sometimes introduced as Yanny and Hardy. (A joke for my millennials out there. #YoureWelcome.) That’s why I was surprised by how moved I was by Steve Coogan and John C Reilly’s astounding portrayal of the comedians.
A biographical movie, such as this, was always going to rely on its stars, and Steve and John really shine as the duo. Their chemistry is incredible. And it’s blatantly evident throughout that the pair really studied their real-life counterparts. Throughout the movie, you notice how John isn’t kicking as high during dance routines because Hardy didn’t. You notice that Steve uses a range of different voices – one for on-stage; one during arguments; one for telling jokes – because, presumably, that’s what Laurel did. And – most importantly – you’ll notice that Stan & Ollie also stars the woman who played Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter franchise, and once you notice it, you’ll never unnotice it.
The pair amazingly avoid going into obvious caricatures of Laurel and Hardy, as they triumphantly give their all in some exceptional performances. In fact, a lot of their humour comes from their subtlety. At one point, John’s Hardy slyly nodded to being married often. I didn’t understand it, but a lot of the old people in the screening laughed their dentures out, so I assume it was a tasteful, well-timed gag. The duo shines even brighter in the final act, however, as scenes become more dramatic, and the pair face harder burdens. Steve gives an incredibly hurt portrayal, and his moments of silence, as his eyes water, are really quite haunting.
Speaking of “haunting” – Moaning Myrtle was in the movie too! In many films of today the leads’ wives can simply be in the picture to make up the numbers. This was not the case of Stan & Ollie, where Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson play the comedians’ partners. They’re first introduced to us together, bickering at one another, and this trait continues providing some much-needed comic relief during darker times. Nina’s Ida, in fact, steals several scenes with her blunt, brash attitude. I see, when she tells people to go away and steals their drinks, it’s hilarious, and yet when I do it, I get thrown out of my Wetherspoons.
What’s beautiful about Stan & Ollie is that it avoided being an out-and-out comedy. It could’ve have easily been so; based on two comedians, starring two comedians. If anything, it was looking to be the anti-Mrs Brown’s Boys. But Stan & Ollie was such a gentle, passionate movie which focussed more-so on their friendship and the tolls it took on their lives, rather than their jokes. It avoids trying to cram nearly 30 years into one two-hour-long film, and instead hones in on their final years together.
And just when I thought I hadn’t done blowing enough smoke up Laurel’s tight buttocks, and Hardy’s enormous, rotund booty, there’s more. Visually, Stan & Ollie excels. From scene-to-scene, there’s nothing new or ground-breaking about the cinematography, but there are moments that are gorgeous. The film opens with one long take, as the camera follows Steve and John throughout the studio lot; they go from their dressing room, through the studios to their set, passing different films along the way. It’s an exciting, interesting opening. And the film ends on a moment that would make anyone shed a single tear, but not me though*. I’m harder than a frozen Danny Dyer. John’s Oliver Hardy decides to risk his life by doing one last dance with Laurel. The camera pans around the duo as they dance, occasionally in slow-motion. Beads of sweat fly off of Hardy. We sometimes don’t see the pair dance at all; just their shadows prance about on the backdrop. It’s a genuinely touching moment… Which I realise I made sound more like a dirty fanfic than a review, but it was just that nice.
* FYI, I of course bawled my eyes out. But that’s just between me and you, okay?
Naturally, I had to save the best ‘til last. At this point, I’d usually nod to some exceptional direction; a stand-out performance or maybe just some stellar Pick ‘n’ Mix I was chomping on. But if anyone watches Stan & Ollie and isn’t in awe at the prosthetics on John C. Reilly, you’re just lying to yourself. No-one else believes you. His get-up ranged from additional jowls, new ears, contact lenses and a fat suit that was filled with water tubes so his skin would move naturally and occasionally perspire. My belly doesn’t look half as real as John C. Reilly’s in Stan & Ollie, and the worst part is is that I actually am chunky. Can’t I get a break?
Stan & Ollie is without-a-doubt a gorgeous, mature homage to two icons that will please any diehard comedy fan, but – much like myself – even for those who aren’t that aware of Laurel and Hardy’s work, it’s an incredible watch. (And, if you buy a cinema ticket to see it, it prevents you from buying Mrs Brown’s Boys: Unplugged & Unleashed on DVD, doesn’t it?)