I found myself rather astonished at the performances of Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly embodying the respective title roles in the new biopic, Stan and Ollie. Coogan, although not an exact match physically for Stan Laurel, more than compensates with his spot on accent and mannerisms. Reilly, however, is an amazing match from a physical standpoint. In fact it’s such an extreme that he could easily be mistaken for the real thing. Together the two actors pull off what is an unenviable task and capably fill what are obviously large shoes and do so in a most interesting way.
This isn’t a cradle to grave portrait of the comedic duo. With the exception of some early scenes that take place during the filming of their iconic series of Hal Roach short films, the bulk of the film takes place during the final act of both their comedy team and their physical existence. Both men would be dead in less than a decade after the events depicted in the film.
The premise is that, after many years of being apart, Stan and Ollie have agreed to a British steamship tour performing their classic bits in music halls. Their plan is to renew interest in their act in the hope of getting the requisite financing for a comedic film version of Robin Hood in which they would star.
Unfortunately old wounds haven’t quite healed and both men still have some simmering resentments that must be dealt with along with the physical challenges that both men face as a result of advancing age. This also gives the two actors an opportunity to recreate many of Laurel and Hardy’s classic bits and they do so with real gusto and a genuine feel for the material.
It’s somewhat scary to think that a large swath of the world’s current population have no idea who the comedy team Laurel and Hardy were, and the extent of their contribution to the world of comedy. If nothing else, perhaps this new biopic will inspire those who stumble upon it to rediscover the work of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. It isn’t what might be considered a warts and all biopic but, rather, a portrait of two comedy giants nearing the end of their time in the spotlight. I’m glad it exists for the simple reason that those who are unaware of the work of these comedy giants might find themselves curious.
This film opens in Charlotte on January 25.
Photo: Steve Coogan & John C. Reilly in Stan and Ollie
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