Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly star as a past-their-prime Laurel and Hardy who embark on a mammoth tour of the UK to meet their alimony payments.
The film benefits from the outstanding performances of its leads, who embody their characters’ voices and movements in a way that does the duo justice. This has somewhat bizarrely earned Reilly a Golden Globe nomination but not Coogan. Hopefully the Academy will see sense and nominate the pair jointly.
The obvious comparison is Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin, and excellent as Coogan and Reilly are they still can’t match Robert Downey Jr’s extraordinary physical performance as former Stan Laurel collaborator Charlie Chaplin. But Stan & Ollie is a better film overall, wisely focusing on a short period of their lives rather than seeking to stretch from cradle to grave.
To this day Laurel and Hardy are widely known, so concentrating on a period when the baggage of their accumulated love and resentment is heaviest, after decades together, is a wise choice. The film has been branded depressing by some, and while it’s certainly sad in places it also has a great deal of warmth. What’s more, the drama feels authentic and never overplayed.
It’s superbly directed by Jon S. Baird, featuring skits from the duo throughout both in their performances and their normal lives, with the famous dance from Way Out West featuring prominently. This makes it a fitting tribute to cinema’s most iconic double act, even allowing us a glimpse at their never-to-be-made Robin Hood picture.