Director: Jon S. Baird
A more perfect tribute to past celebrity might not exist on the planet; Stan & Ollie may have just topped the list. There are biopics that have won prestigious awards, but I’m not sure any of them have harnessed the heart of this film, have paid homage to what once was and will never be again. This is an embodiment more than a reenactment, and another aspect sets it apart from other, higher-praised, biographic dramas; these actors weren’t in front of a camera to make themselves seen, they were there to bring something magical back into our hearts. Stan & Ollie is a selfless movie, a pure wonder of entertainment and sweet exuberance, with no one stepping forward to hog the spotlight, no one actor looking to take home a prize. This is real life brought to life, artist honoring artist, and wow can you feel it.
As their careers began to sputter to an end, Laurel & Hardy found themselves unwanted and unwatched, two has-beens with their best years behind them. Not too long ago, they were the top comedy duo in the world, making movies and making people laugh, at the top of their game. But show business is rough, they eventually went their separate ways, and life barreled on. Years later, they team up one more time with the hope of producing some buzz, which will maybe lead to a new movie, stranger things have happened. So they set out on a tour of the United Kingdom, which goes better than they ever could have hoped. Audiences are cheering once again for Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy, with their simple, physical, and hilarious routines. But Ollie’s health won’t hold up forever, and eventually the old hats will have to be hung up; it’s not a matter of if but of when.
What a kind tribute, a nod to the old greats, without once puffing up into something modern and Hollywood, or a self-congratulating phony. There were only real moments here, historical moments, attempts to allow audiences to skip back in time to see something that was special for a brief period, something that will never come again. I applaud the whole team for creating something this sweet and well-intentioned, all the more because it worked, so special credit to the stars, Steve & John. I’ve recently talked about John C. Reilly (The Sisters Brothers, Ralph Breaks the Internet), his mastery, his talent, how important he has been for the last few decades, his raw and unmatched ability. But Steve Coogan (The Trip, Alan Partridge) isn’t far behind, with a wit and zing that’s unparalleled, and never gets old. Put the two of them together to play the funniest men in history and you’ve got a film that can’t fail, and which didn’t, not once, not for one minute. They were wonderful as Laurel & Hardy, excellent as professionals doing their job, but always with a sense that they wanted to be here; imitation is the highest form of flattery, after all.
My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆