Stan & Ollie
The world loves movie stars, and in the Golden Age of Hollywood movie stars were the name of the game. However, audiences can easily and cruelly let such stars fade away making Hollywood seem like a truly cut-throat place. This has been explored in the likes of such classics as Sunset Boulevard or in more recent pictures like Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Stan & Ollie.
Stan & Ollie is a biopic on the blockbuster film comics Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly). The duo was a big hit in the silent era and even later into the 1930s. However, as Hollywood evolved they were left behind. The film mainly focuses on a tour the two did in the United Kingdom in the 50s, where they played to half-empty theaters, refusing to loosen the grip of their faded stardom.
The film is a sweet and light take on the decadence of film stars, and Coogan and Reilly are able to infuse their characters with a certain endearment that brings these Hollywood legends closer to us. There are also some notable performances from Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda who play the two men’s wives and add a verbal wit to the males’ physical blunders. There are chuckle-worthy moments of comedy throughout, however, Jeff Pope’s script and Jon S. Baird’s execution as director sometimes lead to moments that try hard to seem smartly comical, but simply do not land.
The analysis of decadence is an interesting one as well, especially to Laurel and Hardy’s style of comedy, which has practically died out. They embodied the idea of “the clown” that used physical comedy to greater effect than dialogue. The last mainstream character to have used that to a similar effect was probably Kramer from Seinfeld. Seeing an extinct art-form is certainly nostalgic and will capture many viewers. However, as the film gets going it begins to wander and loses its point and purpose. Is the film focusing mainly on the UK tour? On the echoes of the two’s past? On their approaching career ends? On their fracturing friendship? The film can’t seem to choose one aspect to be its main core and thus loses momentum and pace for most of the film, relying only on the charm of its characters. This makes the film seem longer than it is, and the ending scenes seem to be hinting to a sweet ending and somehow decide to keep going, making it feel like watching the last moments of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, where the film seemed to end eight times.
Nevertheless, Stan & Ollie is a pleasing film to watch; even if it loses its sense of purpose after showing us the two fading stars, the nostalgic trip to a different era of comedy is sure to be enough to pull heartstrings and keep you fairly entertained.