stan and ollie

- Review by Mia Sherry

Stan and Ollie.jpg

I want to preface this review by saying that I’m not the world’s biggest Laurel and Hardy fan. Sure, I know the famous gags and I’m well versed in the later iterations of what they originally created, but I by no means know much about their history or their personal lives. Which is why I was so excited for this film as the trailer boasted a behind the scenes glimpse into the tension and conflict between two comic geniuses and their final push for glory. I was excited to uncover the men beneath the bowler hats, the cracks in their facade. What we get leaves much to be desired.

For a film about such interesting men it manages to be, frankly, incredibly boring. Admittedly, in terms of biographical filmmaking it was done well; the casting is flawless, with pitch-perfect performances, and it certainly is a homage to the duos’ work and legacy. While they did avoid Bohemian Rhapsody’s fatal mistake of covering too much ground in too short a space of time, ironically they seem to have gone to the complete other end of the spectrum and covered too little. Focusing solely on their final tour before retirement, it becomes quickly claustrophobic as the settings repeat, a copy and paste of identical theatres, hotel rooms and train carriages. By the time the film comes to London, I nearly breathed a sigh of relief; there was a street scene! They talked to other people! The sun was shining and the sky was blue! Simple pleasures, but not enough to excuse the film for its sins.

While much of the narrative is repetitive, it’s tided over by the few pieces of suspense, which are, in a heartbeat, picked up, put down and never spoken of again. There are hints of money problems, drinking, affairs, all of which are alluded to, and never given another scene. So now that leaves us with the epicentre of the drama. This is what we’ve been waiting for, what the film was all about, what would make them or break them, this. Except that it’s not. It’s thrown away carelessly with minimal side-effects or even resolution. And like that, the film is over.

At least the film is funny. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly (Laurel and Hardy, respectively) are almost eerily precise in their roles. But how much credence can we give to remakes of old skits? The duo is watered down to mere shadows of their onstage presences. In much of the scenes, the organic humour comes from those around them rather than the men themselves, particularly their wives, as played by Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda, who steal the show.

Maybe this was intentional. It’s made clear to us that this isn’t a film about Laurel and Hardy but rather, Stan and Ollie. That’s fine if that’s the case, but my point of contention lies in the fact that there wasn’t enough to Stan and Ollie alone. It was as if the filmmakers were afraid to put in too much characterisation for fear of going off-piste or out of bounds of poetic license. This comes across as a mixture of poor writing and a focus on imitating the comedy couple rather than creating a performance, which is perhaps what makes everything off-stage feel so hollow.

This film left me with mixed emotions. On one hand, it was undoubtedly a brilliantly acted film, and on the other, it was a mish-mash of half-baked plot points and not enough follow through. It was funny, but also boring. It was light-hearted, but also touched on the genuine connection these two men had. It was a film of contradictions; maybe that’s where the true fault lies.