From Cass to Filth, to Babylon, to Stan & Ollie. Jon Baird departs from his recurring themes of violence, the outsider, man and takes up the challenge of directing a biopic of the lives of British and American comedy duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Baird makes the decision to focus on the duo’s lives as they are waning in talent and popularity, all in the turbulence of big companies, health, ego, pride and friendship being tested to its limits.
What kind of film is Laurel and Hardy? It’s one of those feel-good filler films for the BBC programme to dispense come festivities, one for the older audience with a comedic palette of Buster Keaton and Chaplin. Does the film fulfil its hope of exploring love and friendship? Yes, but in a way that is archaic and base to the nature of a sentimental Hollywood industry.
Luckily the film was carried out by two strong actors, John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan who both managed to embody the dominant and submissive natures of Stan & Ollie. We best see their chemistry in the torment and perseverance when arguing at a grand dinner, Laurel insults Hardy with a ruthless line “you would be nothing without me, we are only friends because we got matched” which followed a good use of silence suspending the film. The second good show of acting was the performance of the duo’s decaying routine where Hardy magically musters the strength at the end of the performance to perform the duo’s infamous kitsch routine.
Jon Baird brings us around a detour of Hollywood life through the lenses of the two falling comedians and the reception of their wives, who in the film are depicted more as burdens than people. The narrative follows the typical A_to-B plot of early career downfall with money-nosed management, a string of empty-seated gigs similar to Inside Llewyn Davis, only mix in Stan’s persistence to have his Hollywood script turn into “the pictures” and the waning health of Oliver Hardy, to which John C. Reilly does an excellent job of depicting a man of morbid health.
Flashy camera work, good acting, coherent but, predictable narrative and a movie to explore the idea of love and friendship between two archaic comedic figures… is Stan & Ollie is a film worth seeing to learn or feel sentimental about any of two? No. If there were a film of 2018 to watch about love and friendship you would have to turn an eye to something like 96 by Indian filmmaker C. Prem Kumar.
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Biopic, Drama | UK, 2018 | 12A | 11th January 2019 (UK) | Entertainment One | Dir.Jon S.Baird | Steve Coogan, John C.Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Rufus Jones