‘Stan and ollie’: A he-said, she-said film review
By Tom and Marilyn Jozwik
Published Jan. 28, 2019
Scotsman Jon S. Baird helms the story of Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C. Reilly) in “Stan & Ollie,” which debuted in the U.S. in December and opened in Milwaukee January 25. The film’s focus is a British performing tour the comedy team took on in 1953-54, not too long before the heart-bedeviled Hardy’s death. Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson play Mrs. Laurel and Mrs. Hardy, respectively. The PG-rated movie has been categorized as biopic/comedy.
HE: It was OK. Particularly noteworthy was Steve Coogan’s performance as Stan; John C. Reilly was also good as Ollie, and the actresses who played their wives were quite watchable and generated more laughs than the two comedian characters.
So why only “OK”? Well, I’d seen “Vice” starring Christian Bale just the day before so I naturally enough made a comparison—in which the considerably more creative “Vice” came out considerably ahead. Plus, “Stan & Ollie’s” concentration on one year or so seemed a needless abbreviation of what could’ve been a much more riveting story. “Stan & Ollie” ran just an hour and a half. While past marital woes, for instance, were touched upon, there was much left unsaid.
SHE: I found it a pleasant film. However, there just wasn’t enough of interest happening during the tour to keep me totally engaged. I guess I learned things about the pair that I never knew, such as Laurel’s penchant for doing shtick even when he wasn’t on stage or screen (i.e., making reservations at a hotel). I also was not aware of the rift that occurred when Hardy signed on to do a film without Laurel after Laurel would not re-sign with the Hal Roach Studio because he thought he and Hardy were being taken advantage of.
HE: I didn’t know those historical tidbits, either, or that Hardy was known as “Babe.” The movie also made clear that, at least at the time of the tour, the comedians were very dear friends; I read subsequently that a grieving Laurel stopped performing once Hardy died, about 17 years prior to his own death. By the way, did you like the acting? Of course, the talented Coogan and Reilly performed as impressionists in the picture rather than creating characters virtually out of nothing.
SHE: Yes, I did enjoy Coogan and Reilly’s performances. I thought there was a real human element that came through. They made me feel empathy toward Laurel and Hardy. Their wives, however, I had some trouble with. Shirley Henderson gave a very detached performance; I never really believed the affection toward Oliver which she tried to convey. Nina Arianda seemed nothing more than a caricature of an Eastern European diva.
HE: Coogan and Reilly did work well together. I liked the musical score (Rolfe Kent), which struck me as appropriately light. Conversely, there was a rather dark and claustrophobic quality to the picture, dark theaters, sets, hotel rooms. A few outdoor scenes, but I wish they’d have opened up a bit, brightened up.
My overall grade would be B-. A decent picture, suitable in content for just about any prospective viewer and one that kept my interest (although I, like you, would’ve liked more to have happened). But it was a pretty far cry from 2018’s finest. The temptation is to urge readers to watch old Laurel and Hardy videos instead.
SHE: I would agree with all that. I suppose the darkness would have to do with the gray climate of the British Isles and many settings in small theater venues. The movie was nicely edited and moved quite seamlessly and quickly. I would give it a B.