By MONTE YAZZIE
“The Dance of the Cuckoos” was the signature tune that played before all the films of the classic Hollywood comedic duo, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Their visual slapstick style has become the iconic calling card for the duo, but the team’s ability at crafting ingenious narrative setups is often overlooked.
Laurel was an Englishman, and Hardy was American, both worked on more than 100 collaborations, creating memorable and influential routines. But also developing a lifelong dedication to their craft and ultimately a friendship that would last a lifetime.
The story begins in the summer of 1937, Laurel and Hardy are walking the backlots of the Hal Roach (Danny Huston) production “Way Out West.” They are Hollywood superstars at the peak of their career, but their relationship with the studios, the dawn of a new era in filmmaking and their complicated personal lives signal the beginning of the end for their companionship.
Sixteen years progress, and Laurel and Hardy are pushing through a tour in Newcastle and Glasgow looking for one final standing ovation for their comedy stylings.
“Stan & Ollie,” directed by Jon S. Baird, takes a charming look at the later career of the two comedians.
For fans of the comedy legends, the portrayal of Laurel and Hardy is impeccable. Steve Coogan gives a wonderful performance as Stan Laurel while John C. Reilly completely disappears, physically and emotionally, into the role of Oliver Hardy.
It’s impressive how much detail was paid towards the routines and mannerisms of the duo, Mr. Coogan and Mr. Reilly absolutely nail the stage reenactments.
The narrative composes an interesting character study that is greatly accommodated by the performances of Coogan and Reilly.
Instead of focusing on the tedious nature of a traditional biopic structure, the film wisely takes the focus towards the latter days of the duo’s career.
We get to see the years of resentment boil over. We see Hardy’s health decline with a heart condition that makes his performance on stage difficult, and we see Laurel’s frustration with letting go of the past while also having to adapt to the inevitable future.
This helps bring a melancholy sensibility to the typically joyous routines they performed.
There are a few moments in the film that unnecessarily slow the pacing down. Specifically, when the film tries too hard to explain the complicated relationship of these two artists, instead of trusting the performances that work so much better at showing the mix of emotions the pair are feeling as they realize that things will never be the same.
Still, the director does a fine job of turning a modest script into something much more genuine.
The film showcases the talent of a comedy genre that has all but disappeared from the mainstream culture. While there are occasions when comedians will emulate a small piece of what these two iconic characters did so effortlessly, the style and grace of Laurel and Hardy are truly one of a kind.
“Stan & Ollie”, with its impressive performances honors the legacy of a unique craft founded by two comedy craftsmen.
Stan & Ollie
Director: Jon S. Baird
Starring: John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, and Danny Huston
3.50 out of 5.00