What do you know about legendary slapstick-comedy duo Laurel and Hardy? I am someone who knows very little about the pair. I grew up watching cartoons and Basil Brush. However, my parents and grandparents remember the duo like it was yesterday. Their humour has transcended through generations and now, with Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly at the forefront, writer Jeff Pope and director Jon S. Baird introduce the magnificent twosome to a whole new generation.
Stan & Ollie follows Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly), the world’s most famous comedy duo, in an attempt to reignite their film careers as they embark on what becomes their swan song – a gruelling theatre tour of post-war Britain. With both of them getting older and frailer by the day, does the tour take its toll on the pair’s friendship or bring them closer than ever before?
From the outset, Coogan and Reilly share an on-screen bond and give great portrayals of Laurel and Hardy. These portraits are detailed, especially as Coogan and Reilly had to nail both the screen personae and also fabricate a more naturalistic account for the off-stage versions. From what I have seen from archive footage, Coogan and Reilly really do the duo justice in their performances. It’s difficult for me, as a self-confessed film critic to give a full account of the duo’s impersonation but their impressions made me gain a soft spot for the ’30s pairing. Coogan and Reilly showed off their acting prowess and intelligence; the elegant technique of both is matched for their shared love of the original films.
Aside from Coogan and Reilly’s on-screen relationship, the narrative did take a while to land. References to previous jokes and sketches were obvious and did manage to put somewhat of a menial smile on my face. I found myself floating in and out of consciousness, waiting for the main bulk of the plot to surface. The wife’s played by Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda did create a lot of turbulence throughout. Their lines felt inadequate, bland and stale. Their introduction to the narrative did not help either. Arianda’s lines with the fakeness of her Russian accent did not punch hard enough, as much as Henderson tried to save her, she ended up falling over her own two feet.
My thoughts about this biopic are hindered by the fact that I do not know much about the duo’s history. Of course, I have always known them to be the greatest comedy duo of all time, but Pope’s writing and Baird’s directing did not showcase that to me. It delved deep into a loving relationship which was near impossible to break. Indearing moments did shine through and most are calling it a fitting tribute but for a generation to understand who Laural and Hardy were, I think they would struggle to put the pieces together. Baird and Pope’s piece shines a light into a comedy duo’s dark period of history, but it does not make me want to go back and take a look into the history of slapstick.