Stan & Ollie is a delightfully heartwarming tale of friendship—one that may encourage you to reflect upon your own partnerships and garner a newfound appreciation for them. This effect is made even stronger by this true story, inspired by the later-in-life moments shared by one of the greatest comedy duos of all time.
In Stan & Ollie, Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly portray Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, respectively. Diminished by age and with their golden era as the kings of Hollywood comedy now behind them, they face an uncertain future yet set out on a variety hall tour while planning a new feature film nonetheless.
Despite the tour’s wild success, the comedy duo is haunted by the decisions of their past. To make matters worse, Oliver’s health begins to decline. They soon realize that their swan song may be approaching and, through that, also realize just how much they mean to one another.
Although I was born in the 1980s, Laurel and Hardy’s shorts were some of my earliest exposures to entertainment. My parents instilled within me an appreciation for not only the comedy duo but also television shows like The Andy Griffith Show and I Love Lucy. Therefore, seeing Coogan and Reilly bring these two legends back to life meant a great deal to me.
And bring them back to life the actors most certainly did. It is difficult to say which actor did a better job—although I am leaning toward Coogan as his facial expressions flawlessly mimic the absolutely priceless ones exhibited by Laurel. However, seeing them play off one another in character is sheer magic. It is almost as if Laurel and Hardy have risen from the grave to bring joy into our lives one last time themselves.
Stan & Ollie does not skimp on that joy, either. Coogan and Reilly recreate several of the comedy duo’s most memorable acts—including their dance number from 1937’s feature Way Out West as well as their hard-boiled eggs and nuts routine from 1932’s short County Hospital. Their ability to capture the essence of these classic acts is uncanny and one might even say eerie.
If that was all Stan & Ollie set out to do, it would likely be more than enough. But the biopic has much more to offer moviegoers, not only giving them a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes drama that unfolded during the comedy duo’s later years but also showcasing Laurel and Hardy’s relationship. It was a relationship that extended far beyond a business or even creative partnership and into one of unconditional love.
It is difficult to hold back tears while reading the on-screen epilogue before the end-credits begin to roll. Laurel and Hardy’s friendship is tremendously touching and one of remarkable inspiration. Stan & Ollie captures that and a whole lot more. It is a fine piece of cinema that acts as authentic nostalgia for those already familiar with the comedy duo as well as a vehicle introducing luminous icons to a whole new generation. Bravo.