Review: Stan & Ollie

PLOT: As their career as a duo enters its twilight years, former comedy team Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C. Reilly) reunite for a tour of Great Britain, in a last ditch effort to raise funds for a big-screen comeback. As Hardy’s health begins to falter, Laurel starts to realize their glory days may indeed be long behind them.

REVIEW: I wonder how aware younger readers are of Laurel & Hardy. Compared to other comic duos, their movies have arguably become more obscure over the years. BABES IN TOYLAND used to get decent airplay over the holidays, but hasn’t aired in years, and their other movies tend to be dismissed as silly slapstick, which, to an extent, they are. They don’t have the crowning artistic achievements like Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd, and even their closest rivals, Abbott & Costello, have one stone cold classic (ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN) to fall back on in the catalog which keeps them relevant.

However, in their time, Laurel & Hardy were mammothly popular, and some of the best big screen comedians, like Peter Sellers and Jim Carrey, cite Stan Laurel as a comic genius on par with the best of them. Like many of their ilk though, they were exploited by the big-shot studio heads they worked for and found themselves out of work and broke in later years. Jon S. Baird’s (FILTH) film tells the true story of how the two attempted to rally in their final years, only to be faced with their own mortality and changing tastes.

Now, this could have been a dreary slog. However, STAN & OLLIE, despite the somewhat tragic arc of the characters, is an upbeat, serio-comic movie that does wonderful tribute to the two men, and admirably depicts their routines. This probably wouldn’t have worked if anyone else by Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly had played the parts, and the duo absolutely aces both their on-stage antics and off-screen relationship.

Reilly’s already chalked up a Golden Globe nomination for his tragic Ollie, a soft-spoken comedian with a courtly manner, who feels the need to constantly please those closest to him. However, he’s also shown to be an inveterate gambler, who can’t help but blow all his cash on long-shots, leaving him in a dire state. Reilly’s got the showier part, donning a convincing fat suit,  but Coogan fares just as well as the sharper Laurel, who can’t stop hustling and hoping for a comeback. One thing the movie does is convincingly depict his conflict over the fact that, as Hardy’s health deteriorates, the still vital Laurel might indeed be able to go on, but is he any good without his partner? The sour part of the relationship comes from the fact that Hardy, who views the whole thing more as a job than a calling, once made a movie without Laurel, which the latter views as a stunning betrayal.

The two are ably supported by Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson as their loving, but strong willed wives, who accompany them on the tour. At first, it seems like Arianda is going to be playing a broader character with her thick Russian accent and exaggerated manner, but both are able to reveal hidden depths, and the movie acknowledges how deeply both loved their respective husbands.

Again, a movie like this lives or dies by its performances. Luckily, STAN & OLLIE is expertly acted, with director Baird doing a good job depicting both the lighter side of the duo and the off-screen drama. This is a charming little sleeper and a must-see, even if you don’t really know your Laurel & Hardy, who seem primed for a re-appraisal.

Review: Stan & Ollie




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.