Coogan and Reilly do their best Laurel and Hardy in a surprisingly dark dramatic comedy about the famous duo’s twilight years.
A biopic about Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy was always guaranteed, although director Jon S Baird’s vaguely iffy comedic drama is unusual as it dwells upon the beloved comedy duo when they were older, bitterer and poorer. Still, Steve Coogan as the English Stan and John C Reilly as the American Ollie make this seem somewhat better than it actually is, bringing heart and sometimes desperate and disappointed humour to the proceedings, and fighting with each other as only the oldest of old friends can.
We open with a long, tricky tracking shot as Laurel and Hardy, at the peak of their fame, prepare to film the lovely dance interlude from 1937’s Way Out West, a sequence that can now be seen on YouTube with Macarena, Uptown Funk and other tunes amusingly dubbed over. We then abruptly cut to 1953, with the pair now both in their early `60s and, as they were basically swindled out of huge money by no less than Hal Roach (Danny Huston), forced to undertake a dodgy tour of backstreet UK and Ireland music halls.
Trying to get a Robin Hood-like comedy off the ground and poorly promoted by Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), they put on brave faces and attempt to put their many arguments behind them, but squabbles soon start and Ollie’s health is a serious concern (and Reilly’s prosthetics and padding are very convincing too). When they eventually meet up with their respective wives, Ida (Nina Arianda) and Lucille (Shirley Henderson dwarfed by Reilly’s fake gut), it takes the edge off for only a short time, with Laurel naturally mentioning that “elephant movie” and causing a rift between them, until Ollie is taken gravely ill.
Staunch fans may be surprised that any movie about Laurel and Hardy could be a dark affair, and yet this isn’t about their glory days and happiest times: instead it’s about them as real, jaded, getting-on men in the days when the joke unfortunately was on them.
A fine mess indeed.
Stan & Ollie is in cinemas now