Pratfalls, slapstick, and gags play second to the emotional lives of Laurel and Hardy in writer Jeff Pope’s screenplay “ Stan and Ollie”. Creative work friendships and feelings of betrayal and unequal commitment help make this bio-pic both bittersweet and masterful. Physical comedy has never been my thing, but seeing 1937 audiences react to this famous duo brought back memories of my grandfather, who would slap his knee and throw his head back at antics like repetitive mistakes.The most memorable being when my non-card playing husband kept forgetting to pick up the “spoon” in a children’s card game of the same title.
Scottish born director, Jon S. Baird, celebrates the American comedic team of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy with little touches. The famous rendition of the song “In The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia On The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine” being my favorite. Tender intimacy is rendered by the principals, Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly. We understand the fear of receding fame and the little jealousies of seeing posters displayed of their new rivals, Abbott and Costello. Common experiences of feeling slighted and being averse to change help to universalize the human experience.
The acting is inspiring. Both Coogan and Reilly use their eyes to flash emotion. These are funny men in simpler times. The “Stop Children Crossing” dual interpretation is the modern equivalent to today’s humorous “ I’d Fuck Me” .
The film “Stan & Ollie” centers on their British tour in 1957. Both men are on second marriages, and their respective wives are coming to see a few performances. Nina Arianda plays Ida Laurel, and she almost steals the show. Overbearing and aware that Stan writes all the gags, she reinforces the idea that Babe ( as his friends call Ollie) borders on laziness. Ollie is more laid back by nature and has health problems. Shirley Henderson plays the script girl, and she becomes Ollie’s new wife. She is protective and often knocks heads with Ida. Both women are supportive of their mates. The script uses their squabbles to mirror the inner thoughts of their husbands. While resentments build over studio contracts and replacement partners, the love of Laurel and Hardy for each other survives in affecting detail. When Laurel slides next to Hardy in bed and pats his hand, it is as sweet as a mother’s kiss. Karen Elliott’s musical direction helps as does the attention to set detail. The two men gamboling in suspenders to “roll sound, roll camera” , knee bend , turn, and shake is made timeless.
When personal divisions are not made purposely, there is the promise of renewal without apologies. More than a bio-pic, “Stan & Ollie” is a nostalgic film about friendship. When Hardy says , “ I will miss us when we are gone”, film-goers will realize that they will, too.