Stan and Ollie
Both John C Reilly and Steve Coogan won major prize nominations for their performances and the film won a BAFTA nomination for Outstanding British Film this year.
Coogan and Reilly play Laurel & Hardy, one of the world’s great comedy teams, as they set out on a variety hall tour of Britain in 1953. Diminished by age and with their golden era as the kings of Hollywood comedy now behind them, they face an uncertain future. As the charm and beauty of their performances shines through, they re-connect with their adoring fans. The tour becomes a hit, but Stan & Ollie can’t quite shake the specter of Laurel and Hardy’s past; the long-buried ghosts, coupled with Oliver’s failing health, start to threaten their precious partnership. A portrait of the most tender and poignant of creative marriages, they are aware that they may be approaching their swan song, trying to rediscover just how much they mean to each other.
It is something of a showbiz truism that classic movie teams are not nearly as chummy in real life as they appear on screen: Abbott and Costello, Martin and Lewis, Rogers and Astaire – the list is long. Stan & Ollie mines the dissension between the men, but what makes the movie more than just a revisionist exercise is that it also shows, without undue sentimentality, the love that bound these two men together. This double-edged approach would not have been possible without the deep understanding and conviction – the deep regard – that Coogan and Reilly have for their characters. Coogan, of course, is well known for his spot-on mimicry of everyone from Al Pacino to Sean Connery. But his full-fledged rendering of Laurel is something else again. Coogan gets to the quick of Stan’s despondency and resilience.
Reilly, fitted with extra jowls and padding, is equally strong as Ollie. (A shoutout to the film’s makeup and hair designer, Jeremy Woodhead, and prosthetics makeup designer, Mark Coulier, who also got a BAFTA nomination.) He perfectly captures Ollie’s wide-girthed grace. We can see how illness has wearied the man, and yet he rallies each time he is on stage. This fortitude is what connects him to Stan; they are attuned by their art. This is also why, when they engage in a particularly bitter fight near the end, it is so excruciatingly sad to watch.
It’s a film made with an enormous amount of care and affection. And Coogan and O’Reilly don’t just perform. They resurrect.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall