Focussing in on the twilight of their illustrious careers, “Stan & Ollie” pays tribute to the beloved entertainers by taking an affectionate and bittersweet look behind the scenes at their last great collaboration: a music hall tour of the UK while trying to pull together one last motion picture deal.
With the collective baggage of decades of the highs and lows of their artistic partnership and lingering concerns over Hardy’s health in tow, the film sets out the triumphs and tensions of one of comedy’s greatest ever double acts.
The film rests easily on the wonderfully immersive performances of its two leads: Coogan and Reilly disappear into their parts, so much so that you often forget you’re not watching the real people. Even the clip at the end of the real Laurel & Hardy’s “Way Out West” only serves to underline just how acutely observed the performances and physicality of both men are. Outside of those two bravura turns, though, the movie feels a little dull, although polished to a very high sheen. There’s a distinctly TV prestige drama feel to the cinematography and detailed recreation of a bygone era that calls to mind prime time Sunday evening TV. The extras seem oddly conspicuous and self-conscious and the supporting cast seem off-key because none of them seem to be operating on the same level as Coogan and Reilly.
It remains a poignant and affecting portrait of great artists approaching the end of their time in the spotlight, conscious of the next generation of comedians coming through the ranks, following in their footsteps, but it’s a little too diligent and reverent of its subjects to really give us more than a superficial insight.