Long gone are the days of the noughties rom-com and Jon S. Baird’s charming biopic, Stan & Ollie, proves that the best way to warm our hearts is through the bromance comedy. The plot focuses upon Laurel and Hardy’s variety hall swansong tour of Great Britain and Ireland long after the peak of their success. The film starts with the hesitant duo and their strained friendship having not performed together for many years. However, like many other love stories, they combat their differences and leave the past behind (after a slapstick fight scene, of course). Not only does Jon S. Baird elucidate the love within their friendship, but also the love they have for their worrying wives and, most admirably, their love of performing.
Steve Coogan’s Stan and John C. Reilly’s Ollie are perfectly humorous yet emotionally available. The love the characters have for each other is extremely refreshing in a world where toxic masculinity is rife. Coogan and Reilly have both managed to capture the balanced amusing and delicate essence of Laurel and Hardy, highlighting their evident adoration for the duo. This is especially surprising considering both actors’ extremely comedic roles in Alan Partridge and Step Brothers (2008). Nonetheless, it is difficult to imagine any other actors attempting the roles on the same level. No wonder Stan & Ollie has ended Mary Poppins Returns’ reign at the top of the UK box office rankings.
However, they are not the only stars of the film. Shirley Henderson’s Lucille Hardy and Nina Arianda’s Ida Laurel are equally exquisite – “two double acts for the price of one” as Rufus Jones’ character Bernard Delfont puts it. Initially, they appear bitter and slightly cold to each other, often in an attempt to protect their respective husbands. However, their funny jabs also develop into a subtly tender friendship. They also add to the overarching love story by their commitment to caring for their ageing husbands and through the reluctant friendship, they formed with each other.
As a whole, the biopic does not only pay homage to Laurel and Hardy through its subject matter but also by ironically echoing the double act’s most famous sketches. Baird and screenwriter Jeff Pope have seamlessly incorporated multiple references into the plot, including the piano sketch’s similarity to the train station trunk scene. Most memorably, the use of the hospital sketch performed at all their music hall shows to foreshadow Hardy’s deteriorating health was beautifully done.
This is a bittersweet, heart-warming biopic that does not promise any crazy plot twists but instead portrays the beauty of relationships in all their forms. In turn, making it a must-see picture for all.
Image: John Bauld via Wikimedia Commons.