Tom’s Rating: 7⁄10 – Lucy’s Rating: “Not for me, I need to revise.”
Charting the latter years of two of the greatest comedians ever to grace the big screen, Stan & Ollie is a polished and surprisingly emotional film. Touring across sub-par venues in Britain, Steve Coogan (Stan) and John C. Reilly (Ollie) must deal with old wounds, the reality of their advancing age, and changing tastes in cinema.
To get some minor gripes out the way first, the film’s aesthetic was too cutesy in places. In one scene, where Stan and Ollie arrive at their first hotel, the set design reminded me a lot of The Shape of Water - almost steampunk in its deep blue gloom and dirty orange lighting. It was moody, for sure, but jarred with the more frank handling of Stan and Ollie’s declining fortunes. The design was too pop-py and rose-tinted for my liking.
And, early on in the film, set in the late 1930s, the camera cuts to an American cinema audience that is desegregated. A tiny detail (this film is not about race after all), but one that brushes over what American cultural experiences were really like back then. I did some quick googling about American cinema and race, and it seems highly unlikely that a cinema would be desegregated at that time. It’s a historical gripe, but it just tinged my viewing slightly.
For a biographical film, and one that explores the fickle nature of Hollywood especially, the filtered aesthetic and cutesy-bordering-on-ignorant portrayal of race made the film feel a little like a dishonest fairy-tale.
Minor gripes aside, the film did great justice to the ingenuity and pathbreaking brilliance of the pair’s routines. My dad is a massive Laurel and Hardy fan, and so I’ve absorbed a lot by osmosis (even if slapstick is not really my thing). For their time, Laurel and Hardy were path-breakers and the script does justice to that fact - especially to Stan Laurel’s quick wit and work ethic.
Coogan and Reilly, while an unlikely pairing, work very well together on-screen and the juxtaposition between the two actors matches nicely that of Stan and Ollie themselves. When you compare their acting to the archive footage of the real Laurel and Hardy in the credits, you see just how well Coogan and Reilly were able to recreate their iconic routines.
The story ultimately crescendos to one big argument amidst the declining health of Ollie, and resolves in a series of heart-wrenching moments between the two ageing actors. The ending was surprisingly emotional and bittersweet, and nicely ties in nicely some biographical details about the duo’s final years.
In all honesty, the film was better than I expected, but it was far from perfect. Coogan and Reilly deserve recognition for some superb acting in an emotionally-satisfying story, even when the aesthetic and design miss the mark (for me, at least).