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Stan & Ollie is a fascinating biopic about the later years of Laurel & Hardy’s career. It’s a heartfelt and character driven picture about trying to get one last shot in the spotlight before their fame fades away. I’m familiar with the characters of Laurel & Hardy, but I’ve never dug deep into their lives behind the camera, and as someone who hasn’t seen almost any material from the duo, Stan & Ollie is a refreshing biopic that will make people who are unfamiliar with the material immediate fans.
While I have yet to see another film by Jon S. Baird, his clear passion for the subject of Laurel & Hardy easily gets myself pumped for any other project the man may have love for in the future. The direction flows perfectly with the written word and the phenomenal performance of the leading men. The use of sets and the decisions of how the duos stage show was displayed is just breathtaking to say the least. Every second the film goes on, you live with these men, you love them, you care for them, and when things don’t go their way, you, just like the pairs’ wives, worry for them. Baird has created the best biopic of recent memory, and those are strong words considering the amount of biopics that are released annually. This film deserves a behind the scenes visitation, as there must be a lot behind the curtain that we’re not seeing that makes Stan & Ollie this good, as it’s so simplistic yet so exhilarating to watch. It is a fantastic example of how far passion can take a project when everyone involved believes in the material and the story is one to be told - it’s surely a story I’m now glad I know.
Written by Jeff Pope, the award winning scribe behind Philomena, Stan & Ollie flawlessly captures Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s friendship throughout the course of their long career together. The film first shows the duo in their strongest years in the business and gives a glimpse into the behind the scenes love/drama the two receive. Flash forward and the two have grown old, still willing to entertain and looking for an outlet to do so. Deciding to go on a world tour to get a producer to finance a new movie of theirs, the couple must test their friendship with fading health and an unfortunate lack of trust. The story is riveting from start to finish with the couple’s charm in theatrics driving the film home. The film displays the men as hungry to entertain and delight, yet they have issues of their own held deep inside away from the fans. It’s hard not to grow attached to Laurel and Hardy, which makes the struggle they decide to go through the more emotional to watch as you grow to love them in a mere 1 hour and 38 minutes.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
As someone who has never seen a real performance from Laurel & Hardy, Stan & Ollie brought them to life and to my attention through the performances of John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan. The bond John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan share is sensational, as they absorb themselves into the identities of these comedy behemoths and became unrecognizable. Reilly becomes Hardy and Coogan becomes Laurel, no doubt about it. These famous actors do not exist on screen at any moment during the film and instead from opening credits become infinite representations of these historic entertainers. Alongside their triumphant performances come a couple of personalities associated with the duo, such as producers, agents, and most importantly their wives. Several of these characters can at times come off as unappealing, especially when historically researched, such as the notoriously horrendous producer Hal Roach who had a life altering argument with one half of the comedic duo. However, others walk through the revolving door and become completely different people once they begin to grow on the audience - notably the wives of the duo as they argue privately about the health and financial status of their husbands. Once the credits role, actual footage of the comedians plays from a film performance portrayed near the film’s start, showing the lengths the actors went through to become the glorious Laurel & Hardy - even displaying their less than glorious moments.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Rolfe Kent has composed an uplifting score that matches the energy conveyed by Reilly and Coogan. Stan & Ollie put on a show and Kent captures the classic showtunes that I believe would be represented back when the shows were performed. Kent is best known for his role in creating the iconic Dexter theme song, but in most of his film scores, they’ve been severely lacking in originality. Stan & Ollie is a confirmation that when given freedom to recreate the magic of the past, Kent can produce it. The sound design of their acts from the music performed during their stage show, to the soft thuds of Laurel rolling a hard boiled egg along a side table, are all captivating to an unprecedented extent. It’s just another perfect aspect of a phenomenal film that gives many reasons as to why you should fall in love with this dynamic duo.
There’s a marvelous use of sets, and unlike most films released today, a majority of the film is made up of pure set design instead of location based filming. It brings an older fashioned style of filmmaking and an overwhelming charm to the entire experience. The transformation of Steve Coogan and especially John C. Reilly is truly remarkable as they, thanks to the help of fabulous makeup, become exact replicas of Laurel and Hardy. The costume design and makeup both deserve massive accolades for their work here, and the actors behind the “masks” bring these historic figures back to life.
Stan & Ollie is certainly the film to see to start off your year, as it became an instant classic in my eyes. Nothing can be said to make people turn the other direction, as this film brings the charm, sadness, and humanity that we all would expect to experience from a duo we’ve been watching all our lives. For many, Laurel & Hardy are legends, but for the newer generations, they’ve been unfortunately lost; now they can find their way back into the hearts of the youth with the real life story of Stan & Ollie.