As often seems to be the case as awards season looms actors take the opportunity to play versions of real people, often with a Hollywood connection, and this year’s version of this sees Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly take on pre-war mega stars Laurel And Hardy in Jon S. Baird’s Stan & Ollie.
The movie begins with a prologue where we meet the titular duo at the height of their fame in Hollywood as Coogan’s Laurel is aiming for a way into a more lucrative film making contract with another studio and Reilly’s Hardy is feeling less ambitious and more content with his lot (primarily due to a mixture of divorce payouts and gambling expenses) setting up a story of the on-screen partners at odds with each other off-screen.
The main bulk of the film then fast forwards to the early 1950s (though there are a few very nicely done flashbacks) when, with both men apparently in some level of financial and creative trouble, embark on a tour of the UK with an aim of it leading to another film.
It soon becomes clear that all is not quite as it seems and that Laurel, who has masterminded the whole affair, has somewhat lost control of it and all the plans begin to fall apart, in a way mirroring the standard form of a Laurel & Hardy story, just in not such a slapstick fashion.
It seems that Baird and company’s aim with this is tell a dramatic tale of faded stardom and conflict between the two men but it never quite manages to settle on a tone that allows this to happen coherently.
While the performances from both Coogan and Reilly are certainly good (Coogan appears the more convincing and engaging but often has moments of being very Steve Coogan) and their wives (Lucille Hardy and Ida Laurel played by Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda respectively) are also very good and provided a nice co-double act to the main pair, it all feels a bit too light and never really explores the heart of the matters raised.
The highlights, for the most part, come when things go into the comedy with reenacted old routines or the duo backstage working on the script for the never to be new Robin Hood movie. Coogan and Reilly do a great job of capturing the spirit of the original sketches while the wives are a great comedy duo in their own right leading to some equally funny moments.
Unfortunately with that the more serious side, which includes betrayal on both sides, deception and potentially terminal illness, gets a bit glossed over.
In a way this makes it rather similar to Queen and Freddie Mercury bio-pic Bohemian Rhapsody in that there is a lot to enjoy and it’s a generally fun experience in the cinema but Stan & Ollie never quite reaches the heights suggested by the response to it since it’s release or the potential that seems to exist within the subject matter.
Also rather like the Queen movie making me want to revisit their back catalogue, this has made me curious to explore the films of Laurel & Hardy, and the cynical part of me wonders if really, that was the point all along.