This dramatization of the final years of screen comedians Laurel & Hardy is another of those granny movies that I go for once in a while, but despite the hoary-sounding subject matter, this is an excellent film, with committed performances and an authentic sweetness.
After a prologue that introduces Laurel & Hardy (lovingly portrayed by Steve Coogan and especially John C. Reilly, under convincing fat makeup) at the height of their 1930s fame, and the legal squabbles that broke up their partnership, the rest of the film takes place in 1953, when the aging duo, their best years behind them, undertakes an initially dreary concert tour of Great Britain. Their friendship strained, the two endure half-empty, second-rate theaters and a flaky booking agent (a wonderfully smarmy Rufus Jones) for the vague promise of getting a comeback film produced in London.
That's more or less it, when it comes to plot. But Stan & Ollie is a poignant and often very funny look at two Hollywood icons as their health and wealth dwindle. You don't need to know much about the real Laurel & Hardy – I didn't – to follow along; still, it's interesting to learn that the effortlessly witty Laurel was the author of their best work, while Hardy clearly had a sharp ear for comedy. These were genuine pros. Reilly and Coogan replicate some of the duo's famous slapstick bits, and they are a joy to watch both onstage and off. But the film is stolen, time and time again, by Nina Arianda as Laurel's dour Russian wife. She is hilarious at every turn.
Stan & Ollie was clearly a labor of love for all involved, and it shows in the results. Embrace your inner 80-year-old and give yourself in to this touching little movie.