Jon Baird finds tenderness and humor in “Stan & Ollie”
Baird directs “Stan & Ollie,” a film that chronicles the late careers of the iconic comedy duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as they embark on their final theater tour. During the tour however, they come to realize that they’re not as popular as they used to be, nor as young and spritzy.
In this film, both Stan and Ollie (played by Steve Coogan and John C Reilly respectively) have realized that audiences are no longer looking to them for comedic solace, and know other, fresher duos are taking over the spotlight (e.g. Abbott and Costello). The tour that they’ve planned is an opportunity to drum up interest in their written film, which Stan was looking to pitch to a producer. It was also an opportunity to connect to their audience in a way that makes them realize why they do what they do. It was an chance for the duo to re-energize, but fate had other plans for them.
For years, the duo worked together without issue, but the upcoming tour and tensions in their careers created a strain that show the cracks in their friendship start to grow. It’s as if they reached a crossroads in their career as a duo, questioning what kind of relationship they’ve always had. Was it a professional relationship under the guise of lifelong friendship? Or was it more of a brotherhood? Either way, Ollie figures there’s no sense in trying to fish out the answer, and might as well just end their time together as friends and treat the tour as work.
However, when a critical event happens midtour, Ollie realizes that comedy with Stan is the only thing that makes him feel at home, and Stan felt the same way.
Baird cleverly tells the story with a fitting comedic flair, making the film about a comedy duo featuring two great contemporary comedic actors. Both Coogan and Reilly give great performances as the aging entertainers, and look uncannily like them. The film employs some slight slapstick sequences that are reminiscent of the duo’s films, as well as employing a lighthearted tone that makes the film a breezy watch.
The film also benefits for having a more focused script by Jeff Pope, giving us great characterizations of these comedy legends without having to chart through their whole careers. The score by Rolfe Kent injects an added whimsy to the film, and the cinematography by Laurie Rose is brighter and wide, allowing the two actors ample space to perform physically.
“Stan & Ollie” is an effective film about friendship forming into brotherhood, and coming to terms with unfortunate circumstances by finding the comedy in it. The pair had a long successful career, and this film does a great job of proving why.
“Stan & Ollie” will be released January 11.
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