You likely did not hear anything about the film, “Stan & Ollie” for the same reason you did not hear about “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Sony Pictures Classics essentially ensured few people would see “Stan & Ollie” by giving it little fanfare and releasing it on Christmas day. The film is a period piece about the early days of Hollywood and two of the earliest comedic film stars.
While not the set-up bound to bring a huge box-office, the film is so easily recognized as good it becomes like “Beale Street,” baffling at how daft studio execs can be. With even a minor amount of logistical support, “Stan & Ollie” could have gone from a 2018 hidden gem to a genuine hallmark of that year’s releases.
For those unfamiliar, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hard were a situational and slapstick comedy duo that starred in numerous silent films during the Golden Age of Hollywood. At the time, Laurel and Hardy were among the biggest comedy stars in Hollywood similar to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
Stan & Ollie is playing at The Lyric Cinema
The film follows the duo throughout their final tour through England and Ireland, hoping the tour will raise enough attention to secure a movie deal, while also being a thinly-veiled attempt to both recapture the fame of a career long past its peak and rekindle a damaged friendship.
Specifically, John C. Reilly really nails the role of the disgruntled “other-half” of the comedy duo. It is no secret, almost certainly not toReilly himself, that his career is inextricably linked to Will Ferrell’s, despite being an accomplished writer and actor in his own right. Not to suggest he harbors a secret hatred of Ferrell, but you can certainly feel the frustration in one scene in particular, as though his performance comes a little too easily.
Steve Coogan nails the ambitious and smart aleck Laurel, while Reilly seems perfectly in place as the wholesome and lovable Hardy. But, the key to both of their performances is their interactions with each other. If you did not know any better, you would swear both had worked with each other for decades, as both have the on-screen chemistry of knowing the other so well and intimately like the back of their hands. Not only in their comedic bits are they in sync with each other, but there is a tangible feeling of chemistry between the two in the way they bicker, play off each other and commentate. Each interaction genuinely feels like watching two people who have spent decades of their lives with each other.
There seems to be the expectation that a movie dealing with comedic figures will inevitably focus more on the drama or seriousness of their lives rather than the comedy, but “Stan & Ollie” opts for a balance between drama and comedy. In fact, I was thoroughly surprised not only at how funny the movie was at times, but how the film seemed to master gag comedy, slice of life, situational and slapstick all without missing a beat. Even the stage performances, while based on trite bits, are so well timed you cannot help but at least laugh a little bit.
The film also flows from humorous to dramatic without ever feeling out of place. One moment you will be watching a slapstick performance, the next you will watch the characters reflect on the business and their careers with both scenes receiving just the right type of care they need. At the end of the day, “Stan & Ollie” manages to be a funny and tragic meditation on friendship, the entertainment business and pursuing one’s craft at costs.
Ty Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twiter @tydavisACW