Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were perhaps the most successful comedy duo in entertainment history, having appeared in more than 100 films together from 1921 to 1951. They were the kings of Hollywood comedy and adored by millions, when a business disagreement interfered and created a brief, bitter split between the two. This movie, Stan and Ollie, isn’t about their earlier lives or about the prime of their career; here their career has bottomed out, and they are trying to mount a comeback. The story is picked up in 1953 when, re-united, they embark on a real-life tour of the UK and Ireland.
Intent on regaining some of their old magic, Stan and Ollie set out to win back audiences and raise money for a film that will mark their triumphant return. They’re now in their 60s and Hardy’s health is failing, but they are troupers.
As they trundle from one half-empty small-town music hall to another, their chemistry onstage is still absolutely perfect as they play out their old beloved routines, but offstage, it’s complicated. With the ups and downs of dwindling fame, cracks in their relationship begin to show and build to a major blow-up.
As buried resentments are exhumed, the two men are forced to confront truths about their personal and professional dealings, and slowly come to realize that the sun is setting on their careers.
Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly both give extraordinary performances, where we hardly recognize them as themselves—they simply are Laurel and Hardy. The actors obviously intensely studied the comedy legends’ every mannerism, expression, and nuance as their portrayals are so believable it might have been actual footage.
From their uncanny physical performances and slapstick timing to their interplay behind the scenes, they play Stan and Ollie to perfection. Make sure you stay for the credits when they show the real Laurel and Hardy to see how bang-on their performances are.
Stan and Ollie is a heart-warming, yet heart-breaking, and beautiful story about two life-long friends who feel the need to have one more stab at the big time. Not just a wonderfully funny tribute to two comic legends, it’s a subtle, sensitive portrayal of an aging and difficult friendship, and a story of real love and forgiveness.
As we see the final days of a remarkable partnership, it is a slow, reluctant goodbye, not just to an act but to an era. Don’t miss this one.
Stan and Ollie plays at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9 at the Salmar Classic Cinema. And don’t forget our nine-day International Film Festival starts on Feb. 15.