Having missed the idiosyncratic era of “Laurel & Hardy” director Jon S. Baird’s “Stan & Ollie” biopic stuns with a profound poignancy; stars, John C. Reilly (Oliver Hardy, 1892-1957), Steve Coogan (Stan Laurel, 1890-1965) synchronize, incandescently the comedians hilarious, slapstick routines; from 1927, until their final road trip (“Birds of a Feather”) in 1953/54, their ingenious “schtick”, in over thirty films, seized the imaginations and adulation of countless viewers; the last tour, strips to the core, the heights and depths of the voyage: the early days of stardom where the studio owned your soul, paid a pittance, and could ruin a career with a dash of a pen; even neophytes will empathize with the energy, creativity and astute intelligence (Laurel did most of the writing) of this virtuoso pairing.
As the journey fades along with Hardy’s health, they are joined by their wives Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson) and Ida Laurel (Nina Arianda), women, fiercely protective, pivotally loving; their minimal scenes reverberate with quick-witticisms, superb comedic, sublimely calculated timing.
“Stan & Ollie”, more than a partnership spanning decades, is a love story; Steve Coogan, “Stan” in the finest performance of his career, woos Hardy, after a severe altercation; his love for the man is palatable and heart wrenching.
Jeff Pope’s screenplay bridges the divide between silent films, initial “talkies” and brilliantly, masterfully brings to light, the careers of two men who ignited multitudes, in all disciplines: actor, Alec Guinness; writer, J.D. Salinger; playwright, Samuel Beckett; artist Rene Magritte. “Silent Movie” (1976), Sid Caesar uproariously mimics Laurel and Hardy’s iconic “County Hospital”.
“Stan & Ollie” is a film for those interested in the embryonic genre of comedic duos, Laurel and Hardy forecast the birth of: Abbott/Costello, Hope/Crosby, Martin/Lewis, Wilder/Pryor, Fey/Poehler. Here is an exhilarating, entertaining, exuberant homage to men worthy of the allegiance.