Stan and Ollie review: Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly pair up to portray the iconic comedy duo of Laurel & Hardy in this bittersweet account of two fading Hollywood stars.

Stand and Ollie review
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Stan and Ollie review

Stan & Ollie focuses its account of the two funny men on a period in their career where their star was beginning to dim, very much in the twilight of their career. With the promise of a big payday, the duo takes off on a UK theatre tour in the hope of having one last chance in the spotlight. The reality of the situation, however, proves to be far from ideal.

Rather than produce a straight-up biopic here, Jeff Pope’s script makes the intriguing decision to focus on a Laurel and Hardy who are very much over the hill, a little bitter with each other and rolling out the same old routines to the point where their material is just starting to feel as tired and worn out as the men themselves. The dwindling audiences and empty theatres certainly emphasise the low-point that we find the two screen icons, leading to the film to have more than its fair share of melancholic retrospective musings.

It means that this account may not be quite as rib-tickling as some may have been hoping for with Coogan and Reilly involved. The film often relies on old Laurel and Hardy material to ring out laughs, which doesn’t always land particularly well – it often feels a little flat in moments of performance. Moments of muted irony, such as a scene with a sick Ollie in a hospital bed reflecting one of the duo’s famous sketches, land better and match the film’s more bittersweet approach to looking at this famous pairing.

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Coogan and Reilly are reliably brilliant as the pair. There is a clear affection in their impressions of the bowler-hat capped, matching their performance styles with a level of care and grace that these two seasoned professionals are more than capable of. Both are given a chance to pull on your heartstrings, with Coogan, in particular, proving to be surprisingly heartfelt, given how abrasive some of his characters in the past have been. They have both clearly established a vital level of chemistry, with their level of impersonation standing as a loving echo of Laurel and Hardy.

Equally as impressive are Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy and Nina Arianda as Ida Kitaeva Laurel. The two of them are immensely entertaining as the over-protective wives of the pair, that it is a shame that the film doesn’t utilise them more as they are often responsible for some of the film’s funnier moments. The rest of the supporting cast doesn’t leave much of an impression, largely standing as thinly-sketched caricatures who drive the plot.

Stan & Ollie is pretty much as you’d expect it to be; a well performed and sympathetic look at two comedy legends, one which is content to tick the boxes and celebrate the legacy of the figures at its centre. It can be a little pedestrian, but there is something winning about the bittersweet approach, with Coogan and Reilly more than up to the task of donning the famous bowler hats.

Stand and Ollie review by Andrew Gaudion, October 2018

Stan & Ollie was reviewed at the 2018 BFI London Film Festival.

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Stan & Ollie