Stan & Ollie
Two of modern comedy’s greatest talents practically disappear while depicting one of the genre’s legendary teams in Stan & Ollie, a thoroughly pleasant, though likely inconsequential biopic of Laurel and Hardy.
Directed by John S. Baird (Filth), the film opens with a jaw-dropping long take that smoothly tracks the iconic duo through a Hollywood studio lot while revealing much about the working relationship between Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly), then promptly abandons this ambition for a more reserved style.
Focusing on a late-career chapter when the comedians embarked upon a British tour of theaters to help boost their sagging appeal, Coogan and Reilly capture the pair’s comedic chemistry in ways that rise above mere tribute and impression.
Being privy to their behind-the-scenes interactions and non-spotlight personalities naturally helps flesh out their inspired, slapstick-heavy public performances, while the varied dramas brought upon by Stan’s wife Ida (Nina Arianda, Florence Foster Jenkins) and Oliver’s slightly more sophisticated bride Lucille (Shirley Henderson, the Bridget Jones films) reveal different dimensions of their personalities.
Warm, well-made, and insightful as Stan & Ollie may be, outside of the bravura opening and its remarkable makeup and costuming, it’s too safe of a film to make much of an impact. Intrigued viewers shouldn’t let that muted scope prevent them from an enjoyable time at the movies, and perhaps going in expecting a modest production will result in an even more cheerful experience.
Grade: B-plus. Rated PG. Starts Jan. 25 at Carolina Cinemark and Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)