I think there are certain movies where the experience is heightened by who you watch them with. I remember 2016’s “Lion” because it was a story largely about the bond between mothers and sons, and I saw it with my Mum at the cinemas having come home from a year overseas the week before. I saw Jon S. Baird’s “Stan & Ollie” yesterday with my buddy Dan, and I’m so glad I did because this movie is one of the best I’ve ever seen about the power of friendship.
I absolutely loved this movie. It tells the story of Laurel & Hardy’s final tour around the UK in 1953 as an attempt to reignite their dwindling fame that had been declining since their peak in the late 1930s. This I think is the hidden cruelty of being in the entertainment industry; it doesn’t care about those they leave behind. Steve Coogen as Stan Laurel is the stand out of the film, embodying Laurel’s fear of obscurity and being forgotten beautifully. Coogen has a particularly expressive face and this serves him well in portraying the dichotomy between the geniality of the bumbling Laurel on stage and the struggle to maintain his dignity as Stan in the real world every time it reminds him that perhaps he’s not wanted anymore. One particularly poignant scene is one in which Laurel is waiting in a reception to see a film producer and performs some of his iconic routine for the receptionist who looks back unimpressed and calls ahead that a Mr “Lauren” had arrived.
Critics have been praising John C. Reilly for his performance as Oliver Hardy, and justifiably so. Reilly is likeable and sympathetic in his portrayal of a flawed man, and he particularly shines in the scenes where they draft new material together. The chemistry between Reilly and Coogen is undeniable, and their reenactments of the classic Laurel and Hardy routines is flawless. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda play Lucille Hardy and Ida Laurel respectively, and the script allows for their characters to be fully fledged and interesting characters in their own right, which often doesn’t happen for the wives and husbands of protagonists in Hollywood films.
There is a particular scene in which the duo finally address the underlying tension throughout the film; that Hardy sixteen years before had undertaken a movie with another actor following a dispute over their contract. The scene escalates so organically that I was sitting on the edge of my seat as they both exposed years of unaddressed resentment; each know the deepest insecurities of the other and know how to cause hurt in places and in ways that even their wives couldn’t.
“I loved us.”
“You loved Laurel and Hardy, but you never loved me.”
The closing scenes of the film are truly touching, as they both resign to the fact that their friendship has gone beyond mere circumstance and that one simply don’t work without the other. When in their final performance Hardy opts to close with their iconic dance number despite his health complications, I bawled like a freaking baby. There are times when maybe the script could have been tightened up a little, but overall, this was simply a happy experience, and I was stoked to have a mate there with me.
By Jock Lehman