Saturday, January 12, 2019

Stubs - Stan & Ollie

Stan & Ollie (2018) Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Nina Arianda, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Rufus Jones Directed by Jon S. Baird. Screenplay by Jeff Pope. Based, in part, on AJ Marriot’s book Laurel & Hardy: The British Tours. Produced by Faye Ward. Runtime: 97 minutes UK Color, Biography

Once one of the most famous comedy duos in Hollywood history, Laurel and Hardy were no longer making movies by 1953. Instead, they were appearing live on stage in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is this tour that is the backdrop for Stan & Ollie, a biopic that was released late last year.

Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (John C. Reilly) have a confrontation with
Hal Roach (Danny Huston) on the set of Way Out West. 

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly give spot-on impersonations of the famed comedy team, with Coogan taking the role of Stan Laurel and Reilly Oliver Hardy. While the film concentrates on the pair who are somewhat slowed by age, the film also offers a behind-the-scenes look at the boys in their heyday on the set of Way Out West (1937), and the famous dance number to The Avalon Boys performance of J. Leubrie Hill's "At the Ball, That's All.”

In the film, Laurel and Hardy do stage versions of sketches from such films as Berth Marks (1929), County Hospital (1932) and Way Out West, with a reference to The Music Box (1932) thrown in for good measure. If you’re unfamiliar with the work of Laurel and Hardy, then I would strongly recommend you search out these films on disc or YouTube so that seeing the reenactments will mean more to you.

By 1953, Hardy and Laurel were getting long in the tooth but they could still bring the laughs.

I can not say enough about Coogan’s and Reilly’s performances. They really bring these real-life characters into the modern world. You get a sense of their friendship and their disagreements. The film seems to take great care to present a faithful version of not only 1937 Hal Roach studios, with Danny Huston playing Roach, but also early 1950s England. There are little details that this film catches, including James Finlayson (Keith MacPherson), who appears in a fleeting part but is totally recognizable as the character actor who would appear in many of the comedy team’s films.

To give credit where credit is due, some of the transformation of Coogan and Reilly into Laurel and Hardy is due to the work of makeup supervisor Jeremy Woodhead and prosthetics designer Mark Coulier. Reilly was apparently covered from head to toe in prosthetics and a fat suit that took up to four hours a day to put on. The end results were apparently worth the effort as he is nearly a dead ringer for Hardy.

Despite the attention to detail, the film does take some liberties with the actual history of Laurel and Hardy. The film makes it seem that the duo had not worked together since Way Out West when in reality, that’s not true. There really was a film, Zenobia (1939), in which Hardy appeared solo and was paired with Harry Langdon (Richard Cant) during a contractual dispute Laurel had with Roach. However, rather than the end of the partnership, it was more an aberration. Together, they would move on to MGM and Fox and Laurel and Hardy would appear in more than a dozen films before their final one together, Atoll K (1951).

There are some other inaccuracies no doubt done for dramatic effect. This was not the boys' first appearance on a British stage. They, in fact, toured Britain four times in 1932, 1947, 1952 and 1954. And there was a film deal that fell through but that was during the 1947 tour, not the one as seen in the film. Still, the film seems to ring true despite these changes. Even their wives, Ida Kitaeva Laurel (Nina Arianda) and Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson) are well represented in portrayals that seem right, even though I know nothing about them at all.

Reilly and Coogan do a great job of capturing their subjects, Hardy and Laurel

The reason to see the film, even if you’re not familiar at all with the work of Laurel and Hardy, are the performances of Coogan and Reilly. They are truly great in these roles. They seem to capture Laurel and Hardy's looks, mannerisms, speech patterns as well as comedic timing. Truly a tour de force for both actors. It was as if they were born to play these roles. It’s nice to see Reilly doing such good work. Too often, it seems, he plays supporting roles to the likes of Will Ferrell [Note: both Reilly and Coogan appear in Holmes and Watson (2018)] when he is capable of doing much better work. Stan & Ollie is definitely worth going to see. And if you're not a fan of  Laurel and Hardy, it should at least encourage you to check out their body of work.

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