Monday, 28 January 2019

Stan & Ollie (PG)

And so we go from one biopic involving two great figures from history to another — this time, stars of the silver screen.

There are rivalries, power struggles and strained relationships, but this time it's more recent history as John C Reilly and Steve Coogan bring us the tale of Laurel and Hardy's tour of the UK in 1952.

And it's every bit as sweet and funny as you could wish it to be.

Starting from the point where Stan tried to get a better deal from the duo's film producer, only to get the boot, the film captures the trials and tribulations as the famous pair try and put the past behind them while facing an uncertain future.

Now, this was always going to be a tough gig, no matter how good the main pair are — while we only have portraits and notes to refer to for royal figures, the works of Stan and Ollie are still here for all to see.

So if a step is put wrong, or a phrase is out of place, the fans will know in an instant.

But there are no such concerns.

Coogan captures the mannerisms of Stan to a tee, switching between 'film' and 'real-life' characters with sublime ease, while Reilly — with the aid of brilliant make-up — fills the physical role of the larger-than-life Oliver like he's been playing the part all of his life.

But where with both The Favourite and Mary Queen of Scots the supporting cast is pushed a little too far into the background, here the wives (the superb pairing of Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda) are given their time to shine.

Nine's comic timing and Shirley's fretting and well-meant harsh words are the perfect foil for the men in their lives, adding a nice extra layer to the story.

And the story itself is wonderfully told.

Capturing the tensions lying under the surface, in themselves hiding the true affection the pair seemed to have for each other, this is as much a tale of human relationships as it is about two stars trying to shine again.

And yet, despite how strong the performances, how well told the tale, how well shot the story, the true star here is Stan's writing.

Some 60 years on, the audience in our screening were still finding the hat swapping sketch funny, the bell ringing bit, the hospital visit with eggs and nuts — this stuff is truly timeless.

Which is, well, heartwarming.

So much has changed over the years, comedy has gone through so many changes, sketch shows have come and gone — but to hear an audience in 2019 laughing at something written back in the '30s or '40s is so uplifting.

Especially in the current climate.

Stan & Ollie isn't edgy, doesn't have a message, doesn't have anything to 'say' — but what it does have is two people paying homage to their heroes and taking us along for the ride.

Not surprisingly, there is something quite old school about this movie, and that is really it's crowning glory.

We left the cinema feeling like we'd made new friends, and wanting to go home and watch their old films.

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