Stan & Ollie Review - A Shining, Nostalgic, Sentimental Portrait of Early Hollywood Stars

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Stan & Ollie, from Sony Picture Classics, present the story of Golden Age comedic stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as they embark on a post war European tour hoping to reignite the Hollywood success they once enjoyed.

Directed by Jon S. Baird, Stan & Ollie stars John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan, with Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Danny Huston, Rufus Jones, Susy Kane, Ella Kenion, Bentley Kalu, Greg Canestrari, Joseph Balderrama, Charlie Robinson, Callum Forman, Toby Sedgwick, Roger Ringrose, Harry Hepple and Andy Mihalache.

The film begins in the backlot of Hal Roach Studios, where comedic icons and business partners Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel, played by John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan, were talking shop; wives, parties, and of course raises, with their contract renewals staggered, Stan’s was up and he was not interested in reupping with Hal Roach, played by Danny Huston and Oliver was still bound.

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Stars in their own right, with their pictures selling out in theaters around the world, the pair were undeniably golden age superstars and able to capitalize on the fame with little else to show for the years of physical comedy. Granted lifestyles played into the lean times and as we see a brighter tomorrow was genuinely only a signature away.

The film fast forwards 15 years as the two are arriving in Europe, for a post war tour of the United Kingdom. Stan has been working on a picture for the two of them with the producer in London, he was able to pull together a booking agent, played by Bernard Delfont, who worked to put together a tour schedule.

Once the tour starts without publicity the audiences are a bit sparse, and so the two are told, in order to book bigger concert halls, enjoy high end accommodations, and have a larger cut of the box office they will need to embark on a publicity tour also. The extra effort paid off and the concert halls were selling out. Instead of a no frills, no name they were staying at the Savoy.

As traveling together often peels back the layers, the pair after more than 25 years of working together finally had it out. And as we find out the contract negotiation, some 15 years ago, and the personal hurt that it caused had festered over the years in both men until it finally erupted.

Oliver, who hid his health problems from everyone for some time, suffered a heart attack the next day while on the tour. He decides, along with his wife, Lucille, played by Shirley Henderson, that his was it. He was done and when his health is better and he is cleared to travel he is quitting the business and returning to the states.

Stan and his wife, Ida, played by Nina Arianda, are also feeling the sting of the leftover frustrations which he believes cost the pair a piece of their pictures and left them financially beholden to others.

What follows couldn’t have been scripted.

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I really enjoyed Stan & Ollie on many levels. Of course as it is a historical account, a never before told story of one of the first and arguably the greatest comedic pairing in show business history and the forerunner to every great comedic pair since, is intriguing.

There were many elements about the film that I enjoyed. There is a real sense of the shift from the silent film star to the talkies and the squeeze those early talents were feeling. Laurel & Hardy were able to make the transition, which few did with any success. Abbott and Costello were following fast on the heels of the comedic duo, which made the comeback more difficult.

As a Hollywood history buff, the back lots scenes and early Golden Age movie making sequences are interesting.

The story is well told, as it moves between the past and present. The wives are also each the staunchest of defenders of their husbands, and each challenges the other as they try to understand the unique relationship, that drives the two men, as it has brought their husbands their greatest triumphs and deepest disappoints.

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John C. Reilly was unrecognizable and Steve Coogan plays a perfect Stan.  The time frame of the film doesn’t really allow the men to show they care for each other, even if it intrinsically tied to their financial health, and as they go through the film one can see the masked attempts to show care and concern.

It isn’t until the health problems become full bloom and we see the dedication the two have for each other and the devotion to the audience that we understand how deep the bond is between the two.

Stan & Ollie is a tender, touching and ultimately heartbreaking story of the first comedic duo that captured the hearts of worldwide audiences and the fickleness of fame.

Stan & Ollie opens, in select cities, December 28, 2018. It has shown at The BFI London Film Festival, AFI Festival and will open in January 2019 globally. See it.

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