1 hr. 37 min. | Rated PG | Contains coarse language.
Starring: John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Nina Arianda
It could have been a standard by-the-numbers origin-story biopic — instead, Stan & Ollie looks at the legendary screen duo of Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) as their career winds down. The emphasis here is on the way the funny bits in their lives come tinged with melancholy.
Born, like Stan, in Lancashire, England, Coogan nails the fussy mannerisms and mischievous wordplay of the British half of duo. Though Laurel was known as the writing brains of the team, he delighted in playing the fool to Ollie’s exasperated curmudgeon. Reilly, encased in a fat suit and a latex double chin, is staggeringly good as Hardy, never losing sight of the big man’s light-on-his-feet performing skills or the painstaking effort it took to make it look easy. Right before our eyes, Coogan and Reilly simply become “Stan & Ollie,” without ever letting the makeup, costumes and bowler hats do the acting for them. It’s a remarkable transformation.
Working from a warmly personal script by Jeff Pope (Philomena), the film follows the two comics on a tour through the British Isles in 1953. By this time, their fame had faded; Ollie is overweight and sickly, and their manager (an amusingly manic Rufus Jones) has booked them into half-empty theaters and music halls. It’s also made clear that Stan and Ollie rarely socialized in the years between. Still, the bond between the men grows stronger as they run through their old routines in front of live audiences.
Along the ride are their respective wives, ever alert to any slights to their husbands and battling each other for the upper hand. Shirley Henderson is a tiny force of nature as Ollie’s wife Lucille. A terrific Nina Arianda takes a different tack as Ida, Stan’s Russian dynamo of a spouse. The two wives engage in the same kind of prickly conflict as their husbands. And that situation gets worse when old resentments surface, such as the betrayal Stan felt when Ollie went off to do a film on his own. Yet the abiding love between these two men is never really in question.
When Stan was too ill to attend his friend’s funeral, he simply said, “Babe would understand.” And thanks to the award-caliber teamwork of Coogan and Reilly, we also understand. You don’t want to miss the pleasure of their company.