Landon Roberts, Contributing Writer
In the last decade, comedy has become more complex and layered via social media. The excessive satire and sarcasm behind every viral meme leaves many craving for a simpler time in comedy. “Stan & Ollie,” the biopic about the silent film stars Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, somehow fills that craving while also offering a heartwarming story at its core.
“Stan & Ollie” picks up 16 years after Laurel and Hardy left Hollywood, following a split between the comedic duo. The film follows their attempt at creating a revival with a European tour. However, the fleeting actors must overcome their past betrayal and health concerns.
The pure comedic timing that Laurel and Hardy had is present in the actors who portray them.
John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy brings the bumbling gentle giant to complete fruition. Every time the film presents the duo’s on-stage routine, you can see the love and admiration Reilly has for Hardy. His performance never seems imitated. The accent, makeup and mannerisms are perfect, contributing to the documentary-style accuracy of the film.
This is only heightened when the film focuses on their off-stage relationship. The way Reilly is able to switch from Hardy’s clumsy on-stage persona to his loving, damaged off-stage reality makes it feel like he is playing two separate roles. This echoes Hardy’s real-life struggles, and it creates sympathy for the downfalls of fame.
Reilly’s performance isn’t the only one that succeeds. Steve Coogan as Laurel offers his own complex performance. This mostly comes from his eyes and the small facial expressions which show incredible affection for Hardy. His acting is especially effective during the weightier scenes, where you see the comedian consumed by sadness.
The heart of the film resides in the way Laurel questions his own actions, and the effects they will have on the duo. Without these scenes and his performance as a whole, the chemistry between them would be non-existent.
Their chemistry shines through their recreations of classic Laurel & Hardy on-stage routines. All of these skits enable gut-busting laughter with underlying pain. The happiness that they exude while on stage is slowly absorbed by the pining of their past glory. This makes the final moments of the film compelling and inspiring, eliciting tears of joy.
While these scenes of on-stage performances are incredibly funny, a montage of the performances in the second act derails the pacing. Prior to the montage, the duo is facing their fading popularity and by the end of it, they have regained their success. If this had been fleshed out a bit more, it would have made the issues presented in the final act feel more important and impactive.
Another issue that makes the film stumble a bit is its direction and cinematography. A lot of the set pieces seem faux, and the basic shot reverse shot presentation gives the film a cheap, unpolished feel.
Under the strange pacing and cheap presentation still lays a truly heartwarming and inspiring story about friendship and fame. The fantastic performances capture all of these themes while also transporting you back to the pure humor of Laurel and Hardy’s chemistry.