Stan and Ollie: Review
Have you ever seen that wonderful pair of comedians from the thirties, Laurel and Hardy? Stan Laurel, the thin one, and Oliver Hardy, the fat one, who danced, and sang, and engaged in hilarious bits, pratfalls, acrobatic stunts, and other comedic sight gags characteristic of their genre of comedy. This film attempts to add dimension, flesh to bone, on this iconic pair from Hollywood in the 1930's. One of the most heart-warming and telling revelations is that throughout their professional lives, they never gave up on each other as actors and as human beings.
The story begins when their careers are headed downhill. The movie producers weren’t calling. So, as an alternative to fuel their artistic juices and to fill their stomachs, they went on the road for a live theatre tour. The actors who play Stan (Steve Coogan) and Ollie (John C. Reilly) are fabulous and are the best part of the movie. The other characters in the movie, on the other hand, seem to blend into set dressing and props. There are wives, a two-dimensional road manager traveling with them, and some thrilled and laughing audience members as in their heyday.
The wives appear suddenly on the tour in London. The tour is meant to restore their fame and public adoration. But ultimately, the tour is meant to support them in resurrecting a movie script Ollie has been perfecting for years. Yet, contrary to what is commonly believed, we learn that it is Stan who is the real creative force behind the pair, in spite of his image as the dunce. He is often seen overshadowed and overwhelmed on stage by Ollie, but is really the brains behind the act. He creates the skits and bits and writes all the dialogue.
The pair travels within England and Ireland. The attendance for the act picks up from time to time, but their former fans are mostly gone. The boys are like ghosts returning to entertain the public. In the face of all this, they keep going. They wa
nt to be paid, but money is not the end which energizes them. It is performing which provides a way to bring life to their considerable creativity, lying dormant for too many years.
Unfortunately, their wives and manager do not share their hopes of making a movie. The road manager's sole focus is to return a profit on the tour. The wives fill places in this story, but not much more. Nobly, Hardy’s wife Lucille (Shirley Henderson) is looking for a meaningful relationship with him. In contrast, Laurel’s wife Ida (Nina Ariana) is interested in using him as a stepping stone to an imagined career as a glamorous star.
It is heart-warming to know that the boys are more than just show business partners. It goes deeper than that. Ollie tells Stan of his love for him and Stan shows his love to Ollie. They trek on. They know their fame is based on their past, but some light continues to shine through, in spite of several humiliating appearances, sparse audience attendance, and low pay. What motivates them it seems is their commitment to their craft and their warmth for each other.
Although the movie is based on these real-life performers, we don’t know exactly what license has been taken in this film. The story is not made out of whole cloth, but was simplified and also amplified for dramatic effect on the screen. Oliver is seen as drinking too much and he feels as if he owes his career to Stan, the creative force. It’s doubtful that Stan’s movie script is going to fly. But, they keep moving forward, with the film's audience rooting for them to succeed.