Even if you aren’t overly familiar with the work of Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy, the duo’s distinctive image is synonymous with comedy and cinema. Jon S. Baird’s latest feature pulls back the curtain to explore the men behind the slapstick public personas. Years after their Hollywood heyday, Stan (Steve Coogan) persuades Ollie (John C. Reilly) to hit the road, and the pair embark on a live theatre tour of post-war Britain.
The narrative achieves a satisfying balance between humour and melancholy, paying tribute with joyful re-enactments of their stage act but also shedding light on their behind-the-scenes showbiz struggles. While their brand of hijinks might not appeal to everyone’s taste, the ‘end of an era’ sadness is universal, and Jeff Pope’s tender script amplifies this over the funnier elements. Tonally, the movie has the warmth of a Sunday evening TV comedy drama, but the experienced leading performances help to elevate the production.
It’s easy to see how much the veterans Coogan and Reilly enjoy bringing these comedic icons to life on the big screen, and the camaraderie of the actors translates into their work. Though he is known for his accurate impersonations, Steve Coogan’s expressive turn as Laurel is far more than just mimicry. His deft subtlety combines masterfully with the more audacious methods of John C. Reilly, and together they conjure up genuine moments of movie magic.
Coming from director Jon S. Baird whose brutal back-catalogue includes the likes of Cass and Filth, this is a conventional step into much safer territory. Stan & Ollie might not be a daring or particularly challenging cinematic experience, but it certainly has the charm and class to be a satisfying homage to its beloved subjects.