Stan & Ollie

(3.5 / 5)

‘Another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.’ – Stan Laurel

Throughout cinematic history, different actors and comedians have defined an era. Charlie Chaplin, Abbott and Costello, Jerry Lewis, Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey all have played their part in redefining comedy for their generation. They all provided wit and physicality that connected with audiences at a specific time in history and none did this better than Laurel and Hardy, the comedic partnership that owned comedy during the 20’s and 30’s. 

This comedy duo worked on 107 films together and though most modern audiences may never have seen their movies, this look and comedic style has lived on. With Stan Laurel’s uncanny timing and doe-eyed buffoonery and Oliver Hardy’s immense size, singing abilities and bully-like manner, they set the standard for comedy duos. Stan & Ollie looks into the lesser known time at the end of their careers and how they had to work to find work to survive the strife brought on by poor life choices and multiple divorces. Proving that pain and suffering usually provide the inspiration for many of the best laughs and gags in history. 

The story begins in 1953 when Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) had coordinated a stage tour of the United Kingdom as a means of getting his comedic partner to travel overseas to prepare to film a new project together. They quickly discern that they will need to work to get former fans to come out to see their slapstick theatrics. Work that takes a toll on their relationship and especially on the health of Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly). They must work through the limitations of their influence and despite their on-screen chemistry, they must address aspects of their history before finishing the tour. 

For fans to go back and watch the pratfalls and pace of comedians of previous decades will provide a glimpse into the inspiration for modern comedians and they may wonder what made these performances appealing. The physical style and timing of Chaplin, Keeton and Laurel & Hardy have a certain magic, but seem to move in slow motion in comparison to the work seen in movies today. This is what can be said of director Jeff Pope’s biopic, a story that is heart-warming with great performances from Coogan and Reilly, but set to a pace from a bygone era. 

To experience these icons in their twilight years is both endearing and heart-breaking. The two leads manage to capture the bittersweet journey that most great partnerships must work through over time. Showing that Stan Laurel was the real genius behind their act, but that the men needed one another and that this chemistry could not be manufactured. This is truly a biographical film that is designed for fans of comedy and history. Stan & Ollie is meant for a leisurely stroll down memory lane with a good friend with the expectation of a few laughs, a few tears and an appreciation for close relationships. 

REEL DIALOGUE: What is the value of a good friend? 

Laurel & Hardy helped to set the standard for buddy films. This is a genre that has been a mainstay in cinematic history and they tap into the felt need for friendships. These men were business partners, but close friends, too.

Solomon writes of friendship in this manner, “two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour:  If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” This is one encouraging passage amongst many that talks to the value of friendship and how God is the author of this beautiful gift to humanity. 

Questions: 

What does God have to say about friendship? (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, Proverbs 18:24)

Does God want to be our friend? (Genesis 3)

Does God care about my life? (Matthew 6: 8, 26)

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 13 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.