Martin and Lewis. Abbott and Costello. Lucy and Desi. Classic comedy duos made us laugh, but it is there tragic demise that we remember just as vividly. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were no exception to that rule. Brit Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy began in the silent era and soon made their way to the star stables of Hal Roach, who produced the Our Gang series. You know that ones that featured Buckwheat, Darla, Spanky and that white dog with the black circle around his eye? Laurel and Hardy shot over 100 films in 24 years making them the world’s most famous comedy duo.
Stan and Ollie focuses on the duo during the last chapter of their career where in an attempt to revive their popularity, they embark upon a European tour. Slow to start, the tour becomes a huge hit, but the duo is plagued with ghosts from the past, health and monetary issues. At the end of it all we discover that these two men genuinely love each other like family. And like family, they may quibble and get on each other’s last nerve, but they would rather be with each other more so than anyone else executing a brand of comedy that only they could understand and deliver.
Kudos to Mark Coulier for making John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan dead ringers for the two comedy legends. Both men, respectfully, bring a humanity, vulnerability and comedic sensibility to Laurel and Hardy that I honestly don’t think anyone else would have been able to pull off. Portraying these men required more than makeup and slapstick dance routines. It required skilled actors who have the innate heart and understanding of what men in entertainment go through when aging in show business. This line from the film spoke by Hardy to Laurel during one of their infamous disagreements says it all, “…I loved us. YOU loved Laurel and Hardy, but you never loved me.”
Nina Arianda as Ida Laurel is pure comedy genius. She never really speaks a full sentence, but her screen presence scream volumes and is without a doubt one of the highlights of this film other than Reilly and Coogan. Fans of the silent film era, slapstick and just good old-fashioned fun will enjoy this film immensely and leave knowing a little more than they did when the film began. Produced by the BBC and Sony Pictures Classic Stan and Ollie opens as part of the BFI London Film Festival on October 21st and was released in the US on November 14th.