Stan & Ollie
dir Jon S Baird
scr Jeff Pope
prd Faye Ward
with Steve Coogan, John C Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Danny Huston, Rufus Jones, John Henshaw, Susy Kane, Stephanie Hyam, Joseph Balderrama, Harry Hepple, Andy Mihalache
release US 28.Dec.18, UK 11.Jan.19
18/UK eOne 1h40
Stan & Ollie
Another fine mess: Coogan and Reilly

henderson arianda huston
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Stan & Ollie With a gentle tone, this biopic traces Laurel and Hardy's final stage tour. The focus is on their relationship, and Jeff Pope's script beautifully captures their rivalry and deep affection. Director Jon Baird stages the film as a loving homage to the iconic duo, replaying their best bits and thankfully resisting the temptation to over-egg them for a modern audience. So the film remains warm and, yes, funny.

It's been some 15 years since their global success peaked, and now Stan Laurel (Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (Reilly) are touring 1953 Britain while prepping their next film, a comedy take on Robin Hood. Worried about slow ticket sales, their manager Bernard (Jones) organises a series of promotional appearances, which do the trick. Then their wives Lucille and Ida (Henderson and Arianda) arrive for their shows in London. But when Oliver has a heart attack, Stan has to consider performing with a new partner (Henshaw), which causes both of them to examine their relationship.

Baird creates a delicately bittersweet tone, tracing the darker layers of a life-long friendship and working partnership while leaving emotions gurgling under the surface. It's clear that these men love each other, but they'd never say so. Expressing frustration and pent-up anger is somehow easier. Coogan and Reilly play this with subtle textures, mixing witty banter with pointed glances and an underlying sense of how they really feel. Their interaction is lovely to watch, both when they're in a slapstick routine and when the walls come down between them.

Meanwhile, their wives are a superb comedy duo on their own. Arianda nearly steals the show with her clipped no-nonsense dialog, delivered with impeccable timing, while Henderson matches her with hilariously offhanded riffs. Jones nails the slippery manager perfectly, stroking egos while looking for ways he can profit. And Huston has some nice scenes as Hollywood producer Hal Roach, who made Laurel and Hardy stars then casually turned them against each other.

The story unfolds in an unhurried way that may try the patience of young filmgoers, but Baird is offering a glimpse into this world on its own terms. Connecting with the film's rhythms elevates the amusing humour to art, from the broadest silliness to the lighter-than-air musical moments. This is a finely produced period piece with a grand old movie feel to it. It's also a fitting tribute to perhaps the funniest duo in cinema history, and it may help create a few more generations of fans.

cert pg themes, 21.Oct.18 lff

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall