It seems that 2019 isn’t off to a great start, so far, with bitter winds and snow to the south, and all that Brexit madness to the east, as just some examples of looming doom and gloom.
It’s enough to make you yearn for something more upbeat and warm-hearted – so what better time to roll out a review of the recently released Stan & Ollie (cert PG, 98 mins)?
There was something of a feeling of art imitating life for this one, as the film – following the legendary duo long past their prime as they embarked on an underwhelming UK and Ireland tour – wasn’t exactly playing to a packed cinema when I saw it.
Far from it – perhaps the antics of the fat one and the thin one who were at their best in the 1930s just doesn’t resonate with modern audiences.
If so, that’s a real shame, as the film was a charming nod at once great comics whose public persona saw them portrayed as bumbling oafs, but who had a complex relationship behind all their masterfully crafted slapstick and pratfalls.
Here, in tandem with the main story – Stan and Ollie embarking on an ill-fated tour long past their prime – we learn a little about the classic Hollywood studios’ machinations and star treatment, soon learning that the dim-witted duo (on stage, at least) were hamstrung in their efforts to develop new material.
This feeling of two equal halves of a unique comedy partnership having two different sets of restrictions has created a tension that underpins their relationship, even years later, as they embark on the tour.
They soon find that, due to ineffectual management, their long-awaited big tour is something of a shambles, playing to barely half-full fleapit venues, with the vaudeville icons somewhat relegated as relics.
The tour staggers on, with further tensions arising from their wives, and Ollie’s failing health hanging over matters, as the stresses of trying to complete the tour, get a long-cherished project off the ground, and their interpersonal difficulties all making it anything but fun for them …
Don’t be me wrong – that sounds like a dour, stressful film, but the end, overall result is anything but, as Stan and Ollie presents a charming and, dare I say it, heartwarming tale.
As Ollie, John C Reilly (smothered in prosthetics) is a revelation – even hidden under blubbering amounts of special effects make-up, he creates a startlingly relatable Oliver Hardy.
And as Stan, Ollie’s long-time foil, Steve Coogan effortlessly keeps pace with him, creating a complex, nuanced Stan Laurel who’s anything but the simpleton he’d played on screen for decades.
Together, it’s a dynamite pairing of actors and characters, breathing fresh life into undeservedly half-forgotten comedy geniuses, with the pair’s tragicomic tale creating one of the most human, affectionate tales you’ll see all this year.
And, as an extra treat, there are plenty of Laurel & Hardy shorts on YouTube, with plenty of funny moments to savour, so check them out too…