Stan and Ollie: A Review

By Steve Vertlieb: Stan And Ollie is truly one of the loveliest films that it has been my privilege to see in years. This sweet, gentle portrait of the screen’s indisputably greatest comedy team is often hilarious, yet heartbreaking in its unflinching portrait of two incandescent souls who lit up motion picture theaters with their impeccable artistry. John C. Reilly is astonishing as Oliver Hardy, known affectionately as “Babe” to those closest to him. His transformation and performance are deeply touching, focusing on the portly actor’s frailty, gambling addiction, and quiet dignity as the years begin to evaporate his strength and vitality. This is clearly the performance of his career. Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel, the creative force behind the team’s hilarity and success, is gently brilliant in his depiction of a comedic genius struggling to keep the team alive as their gradual descent from fame and from youth has begun taking its inevitable toll.

Their respective wives are their seeming opposites. Ida Kitaeva Laurel (Nina Arianda) is a shrill, domineering woman whose physical stature and brash personality loudly overshadow her outwardly meek husband. Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson) is closer to Stan in demeanor, yet married to the gregarious “Babe” Hardy. Dedicated to preserving her beloved husband’s failing health and happiness, Lucille is the anchor who must rescue Ollie from his own excesses. Ida and Lucille are as different as Stan and Ollie, providing a striking, if bizarre, reflection and mirror image of their respective spouse’s personalities. Danny Huston in another of his menacing performances as Hal Roach, and Rufus Jones as the ruthless promoter who imports the boys to England in the latter years of their careers are, perhaps, symbolic of the crass tastes of a fickle public who have, in so cavalier a fashion, discarded the once beloved comedy team to the ash heap of fame and fortune.

Jeff Pope’s deeply melancholy screenplay, based upon Laurel and Hardy: The British Tours by A.J. Marriot, begins with the duo’s career high as they battle for release from their contract with Hal Roach, then effortlessly segues into their declining years as entertainers when the world and their once loyal fans have all but forgotten them. Laurel, who wrote all of the team’s classic comedy dialogue and routines, brings his ailing partner to England to revive their popularity with a proposed new film based upon the legend of Robin Hood. Sadly, the film never materialized, but a dream sequence in which Stan and Ollie re-create the first meeting of Robin and Friar Tuck is genuinely hilarious.

Rolfe Kent’s musical score brings sweet clarity to the failed dreams and quiet frustration, endured proudly by the embattled, fallen comic warriors, while Laurie Rose’s muted colors and cinematography lend historical accuracy to a bleak, heart aching descent from fame, popularity, and grace.

Directed with affection, and dignity by Jon S. Baird, this Sony Classics release is a tender, sweetly compassionate look at the greatest comedy team in motion picture history … after the adulation and parade had passed them by. Their growing sadness as the reality of age, health, and sad obscurity conspires to consume their devotion to one another ultimately masks a consummate love story that these gentle souls shared. Stan And Ollie is, at its considerable heart, a love story … a fragile take on the rigors and aftermath of fame, and the ultimate redemption of two beautiful human souls whose lasting dignity, respect, and affection for one another comprised the artistry, charm and enduring magic that was … and is … Stan And Ollie.

8 thoughts on “Stan and Ollie: A Review

  1. Ive not yet seen the film. Id planned to but, haven’t gotten to it yet. After reading this, I CERTAINLY will. Thank you Steve!

  2. A pity, therefore, that the established facts surrounding this tour have been distorted or ignored completely in order to manufacture the movie’s story arc — especially as a far more uplifting and optimistic storyline already existed in reality, arising out of their first tour. It’s easy to promise an “untold story” when you conjure it up out of thin air.

  3. Beautifully written Steve. The style and language exceeds what I have come to expect of you. Keep it going!!

  4. In response to Mr. Green’s previous comment, as a screenwriter (and obviously NOT of the film under discussion) I feel it important to point out that while, yes, STAN AND OLLIE does indeed take a few liberties with the real life timeline of the two performers, and does “distort or ignore completely” some things “in order to manufacture the movie’s story arc” this is nothing new or artistically unheard of in a film based upon historical figures. Hell, even in the film’s end credits there is always a disclaimer stating such. Y’know, that whole “some incidents and characters have been created for dramatic purposes” thing. All of this to say that if one is going to level such a charge at STAN AND OLLIE, then one must level the exact same charge at other “true story” films such as LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE GREAT ESCAPE (remember, hardly any of the true life escapers were American!), HOFFA, SCHINDLER’S LIST, MALCOLM X, APOLLO 13, HIDDEN FIGURES and more. One must also keep in mind the fact that most theatrical films which HAVE made it a point to near-religiously follow (as Jack Lord used to say) “The facts, just the facts” – films such as TORA, TORA, TORA, A BRIDGE TOO FAR and THIRTEEN DAYS have usually been (at least at first) ignored by audiences and often lambasted by critics as being guilty of “accuracy at the expense of drama”. Not saying that the practice of “altering data for dramatic purposes” is “good” or “bad”. Just saying that if you’re going to ride STAN AND OLLIE for doing so then you kinda have to ride every other film (even venerable old faves) which have done the same, yes?

  5. I think the problem is that there’s something like two possible show biz movies, and the facts of every creative artist’s (or team’s) existence are secondary to fitting them into these two movies.

    Maybe it’s three.

    Anyway, the acting and atmosphere are said to be very good, and if I’m reading correctly, we were at least spared from a remake of the one where Chopin’s stuck for a theme for his new etude, and George Sand just happens to hum something, and Frederic says “That’s IT! That’s the theme for my new etude!”

    (“So Stan’s in despair, and Ollie whistles a little tune, and Stan says, ‘That’s IT!’ You, lad! Go get Marvin Hatley and tell him to come here at once! We’ve got our signature theme!”)

  6. Have never heard much about Stan and Ollie’s real life wives, and wonder if the background story is true.

  7. I looked up the book mentioned in the review. Some people are offering it for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. No longer content to scalping people, some dealers are willing to behead.

  8. Pingback: AMAZING NEWS FROM FANDOM: 2-10-19: Pre Scroll Edition - Amazing Stories

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