MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Stan & Ollie is a wonderful film about a great comedy team dealing with dwindling popularity and declining health by relying on their sense of humor and deep friendship. Like last year’s Green Book, the movie is a road trip in which these entertainers travel about putting on performances for fans. While I did not expect many people to recognize the pianist Don Shirley featured in Green Book, it is with deep chagrin that I must acknowledge our current culture’s unfamiliarity with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. These two men started performing their physical comedy in silent films and then moved effortlessly into talking pictures, enjoying their greatest success in the 1930's and 40's. I first enjoyed their films on local television stations when a child, especially when Cleveland’s WJW would feature its annual Laurel and Hardy festival on weekends and after the 11:00 news. They are in my comedy pantheon with The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, The Marx Brothers and Abbott & Costello.
This movie begins in 1953 with the comedy duo experiencing a professional downturn. Producer Hal Roach (Danny Huston) is not willing to pay them adequate compensation and Hardy is losing money due to a gambling habit. Laurel is the one who writes most of their material, and he envisions a new film in which they spoof Robin Hood; all they need is someone to finance the project. Stan books a European tour with an agent (Rufus Jones) who promises him that they can make a connection with a producer.
The two hit the road, playing out-of-the-way pubs and smaller theaters than expected. While they are gaining some welcome encouragement from their faithful fans, Hardy is beginning to struggle physically, due to obesity and related health problems. Laurel knows that their morale will be improved when their wives (Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson) are able to join them.
Stan & Ollie is, most of all, a touching depiction of a deep partnership and friendship. They rely on one another professionally and personally as an inseparable couple. The film also allows their spouses to demonstrate their support in amusing ways. The movie is honest enough to show the strain that is a part of close friendships and the ties that bind people close together.
There are so many predictable comedy-dramas and rom-coms every year but Stan & Ollie is not one of them; it is a unique treasure. It is clever and often laugh-out-loud funny, and John C. Reilly (in impressive makeup) and Steve Coogan inhabit their roles to recreate several classic routines.
This is one of the most entertaining films of 2019.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: An affectionate tribute to great comedy and great friendship.
One pitchfork: Much smoking and drinking, typical of the 1950's.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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