Stan and Ollie is a bio-pic about Laurel and Hardy’s last gig, a tour of Britain many years after the pair had made their last movie. The film works as a behind-the-scenes depiction of one of cinema’s greatest double acts. Though billed as a comedy, it is more a thoughtful and moving exploration of the nature of stardom, providing an intimate warts-and-all glimpse into the friendship between Laurel and Hardy. Steve Coogan plays Englishman Stan Laurel and John C Reilly plays Oliver Hardy, and their performances are extraordinary.
In 1953, sixteen years after their last movie, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are fading stars in need of a comeback and some cash. They embark on a theatrical tour of the UK and Ireland, initially attracting little interest, and they perform to empty regional theatres until producer Bernard Delfont organises a raft of publicity appearances, effectively doubling their workload. The publicity stunts work and they are soon playing to packed houses across the country. When they are joined by their wives, Ida and Lucille (themselves somewhat of a comic duo), old rivalries resurface and Stan and Ollie have a falling out. This, coupled with gruelling workload, is too much for Ollie, who suffers a heart attack and is warned never to work again; then a long-awaited movie deal falls through, and Stan is defeated. They know this is their last gig; with nothing left to lose they soldier on with the tour, determined to earn every last applause doing what they love and do best.
The use of prosthetics (in Reilly’s case a cooled fat suit) give the pair an astonishingly accurate resemblance to Laurel and Hardy and their performances are note for note perfect reproductions of the original acts. Shirley Henderson and Nina Ariandra provide inspired supporting performances as their respective wives.
This is a beautifully made British picture, a model of technical excellence, and has been nominated for a host of awards. However, though a worthy tribute to the talents of Laurel and Hardy, Stan and Ollie is ultimately bittersweet and melancholic.