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With: John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, Nina Arianda, Danny Huston, Rufus Jones
Written by: Jeff Pope
Directed by: Jon S. Baird
MPAA Rating: PG for some language, and for smoking
Running Time: 97
Date: 12/25/2018

Stan & Ollie (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hardy Har-Har

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This gentle, sweet biographical story of legendary comics Laurel and Hardy is a small delight, a warm hug of a movie with superb, spot-on performances, some big laughs and genuinely touching moments.

In Stan & Ollie, legendary screen comedians Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) are filming their great comedy Way Out West in 1937. Despite their huge success, they're both short on money, due to the miserly contracts Hal Roach (Danny Huston) has them under. Stan tries to argue for better treatment, but fails.

Years later, in 1953, the aging comics are on their own, and have embarked upon a stage tour of the U.K. and Ireland, hoping to secure funding for a new Robin Hood movie. At first the shows are small and poorly attended, but with a little publicity, the crowds grow. Their beloved wives, Lucy (Shirley Henderson) and Ida (Nina Arianda) join them. But the funding for the movie finally falls through and the old friends get into a big fight over a long-simmering grudge. Will this be the end of Laurel & Hardy?

Inspired by, and focusing on, a theatrical tour of the U.K. and Ireland the duo took late in their career, Stan & Ollie changes the timeline a bit, but succeeds by staying focused on the characters and their love for one another. It includes one crucial, bravura sequence from their early days, for perspective, but otherwise avoids the usual biopic trap of trying to tell an entire life story in one movie, and ending up as a collection of highlights. This movie is instead full of lovely, dear moments that are worth cherishing.

The two leads are almost shockingly good, looking and sounding just like the real thing, and with an amazing chemistry together; it's almost too bad they didn't re-create more of the duo's classic comedy routines. As a bonus, Henderson and Arianda are equally superb as the wives; they have their own bickering, hilarious, and touching relationship outside of their husbands.

Oscar-nominated screenwriter Jeff Pope (Philomena) and director Jon S. Baird — whose last movie was the polar opposite Filth — are behind this affectionate family-friendly movie; its only downside is that younger kids who don't yet know Laurel & Hardy's work may find it difficult to fully appreciate this swan song. Yet the funny parts are funny enough to appeal to just about anyone.

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