Stan & Ollie pays tribute to Laurel and Hardy's brilliant buffoonery

by James Robins / 21 February, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - Stan and Ollie movie review

John C Reilly and Steve Coogan are lifelong devotees to comic duo Laurel and Hardy – and it shows.

By the 1950s, the movie careers of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, who’d spent decades getting smacked in the face with lumber or dropping pianos down stairs, was on the wane. Like their silent-era forebears Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, their slapstick comedy belonged to another time.

Stan & Ollie, a generous and sweet film, explores this twilight of the comic masters. It follows the duo’s tour of post-war Britain where they grin and bear it as people greet them with such compliments as, “It’s amazing you two are still going strong! Still using the same old material!”

As the shows wear on, that friendship – a love story, really – threatens to fracture and falter. What is never in doubt, though, is Steve Coogan and John C Reilly’s brilliance in their portrayals of the pair. Both actors are lifelong devotees, and it shows. Near the beginning, they run through the famed (and silly) dance routine from 1937’s Way Out West and it’s a note-perfect recreation, right down to the mistakes. Reilly knows that Hardy was always the prankster and the more expressive performer. At that size, how could he not be? Coogan, meanwhile, brings a thoughtfulness to the partnership, reminding that Laurel was the brains of the operation, his mind a buzzing switchboard of ideas and riffs.

Ideal as these performances are, the film falls flat for a while. To those with only a passing familiarity with Laurel and Hardy’s material and their wholesome style of ever-escalating slapstick, the routines seem quaint, almost naive. Unavoidably, as they well knew, the mood of comedy shifts with every generation.

That is until two figures enter the frame: the latest wives. Shirley Henderson plays Lucille Hardy (his third wife) with a voice like an AM radio. The brilliant Nina Arianda comes in like a lightning strike and nearly upends the entire thing as the terse Russian Ida Kitaeva (Laurel’s fourth). “Two double acts for the price of one!” a promoter quips. Only then does Stan & Ollie develop into more than a cutesy throwback, coming alive with vociferous wit.

And with it stirs the realisation that however many spouses Laurel and Hardy went through, they were forever wed to each other. Throughout, they affectionately address each other as “babe”. One betrayal, deep in their past, is fashioned into a crisis the movie doesn’t really need. But then again, it means we get to see them reconcile with a warm embrace in a Savoy hotel room – an affirmation of one of the most imperishable comedy relationships of all time.

IN CINEMAS FROM FEB 21

★★★★

Video: Sony Pictures Classics

This article was first published in the February 23, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Medical specialist and writer Eileen Merriman's prescription for success
104920 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Profiles

Medical specialist and writer Eileen Merriman's pr…

by Clare de Lore

Eileen Merriman doesn’t have to dig too deep to find the angst, humour and drama for her award-winning novels.

Read more
We still remember them: The best in new Anzac Day reading
105020 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Books

We still remember them: The best in new Anzac Day…

by Russell Baillie

The tide of great New Zealand books on the world wars shows no sign of going out. Russell Baillie reviews four new Anzac books.

Read more
Fine lines: New Anzac books and graphic novels for kids
105028 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Books

Fine lines: New Anzac books and graphic novels for…

by Ann Packer

A telegraph “boy”, heroic animals and even shell-shock make for engaging reads for children.

Read more
Keeping up appearances: The challenging job of restoring NZ's lighthouses
104978 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Keeping up appearances: The challenging job of res…

by Fiona Terry

Ensuring lighthouses stay “shipshape” isn’t a job for the faint-hearted.

Read more
The former major reuniting service medals with their rightful owners
105015 2019-04-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

The former major reuniting service medals with the…

by Fiona Terry

Service medals are being reunited with their rightful owners thanks to former major Ian Martyn and his determined research.

Read more
PM announces 'Christchurch Call' to end use of social media for terrorism
104952 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Politics

PM announces 'Christchurch Call' to end use of soc…

by Noted

A meeting aims to see world leaders and CEOs of tech companies agree to a pledge called the ‘Christchurch Call’.

Read more
Red Joan: Judi Dench almost saves Soviet spy story from tedium
104942 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Red Joan: Judi Dench almost saves Soviet spy story…

by James Robins

The fictionalised account of a British woman who spied for the Soviet Union is stiflingly quaint.

Read more
What to watch on TV this Anzac Day
104749 2019-04-24 00:00:00Z Television

What to watch on TV this Anzac Day

by Fiona Rae

Māori TV once again devotes the day to Anzac programming, including a live broadcast from Gallipoli.

Read more