In the 1930s, Laurel & Hardy were the movies’ most famous duo. Beloved by the masses, their comedy shorts raked in cash. However, Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) missed out on the wealth.
Signed into an unfair contract, they earned little more than union rates and were forced to work nonstop.
Laurel, who wrote most of the scripts, urged Hardy to join him in breaking their contract and finding another studio. Fearful of being sued by the studio and ruined, Hardy worked instead with a new partner.
Hardy’s decision ruined both their careers and embittered Stan. Finding work separately proved nearly impossible for both. By the mid-1950s, Laurel and Hardy were out of wives and cash. Laurel is a recovering alcoholic hoping to relive his glory with the only partner he enjoyed working with. Hardy is in poor health with crushing debt.
Swallowing his pride, Laurel makes Hardy an offer. He’s written a Robin Hood movie that could be their big comeback — after they tour England and do a few live shows to drum up interest. Neither is in a position to turn down an influx of cash, so they begin the shows. Soon the old bits are getting the same laughs they always did, and the two remember how wonderful it was to work together.
Can they make a comeback? Or have their stars burned out?
A rare biopic that feels both intimate and interesting, Stan & Ollie is a must-see for fans of the iconic duo. Director Jon S. Baird (I’m Dying Up Here) seeks to neither deify nor condemn but to explore the pair’s relationship and the pure joy of performing. The story is cleverly set later in their lives, allowing reflections on the past without the weight of an entire life story. The technique gives us a broader picture of both and how desperately each needed the other.
Both Coogan and Reilly give astonishingly good performances. They effortlessly do Laurel and Hardy’s routines with their original timing and charm. Coogan captures both Stan’s neuroses and the drive that keeps him from abandoning past fame. Reilly offers a brilliant performance that digs into Hardy’s horrific health problems and deep need to avoid conflict. He brilliantly captures Hardy’s ability to be light on his feet even at his larger size. His Hardy is soft-hearted and filled with regret, but he recaptures his joy by stepping back on the stage with Stan.
Wives get fair treatment, too. Both are developed into interesting, hilarious people. As Laurel’s brash wife Ida, Nina Arianda steals almost every scene she’s in.
Stan & Ollie is wonderful as an exploration of the dynamic behind a legendary comic team. See it to remember or to discover great comedy and human depth.
Excellent Biopic • PG • 97 mins.
~~~ New this Week ~~~
The Final Wish
When Aaron Hammond’s (Michael Welch) father dies, he returns home to help his mother sort out the estate. In his father’s study, he comes across an odd object that theoretically grants wishes. Though having wishes granted sounds great in theory, each wish made on this artifact goes horribly wrong.
Can Aaron save his family from temptation? Or is that one wish too many?
Prospects: Flickering • NR • 95 mins.
The Kid Who Would Be King
Alex (Louis Serkis) thought he was nothing special. He’s bullied, a bit of a loner and content at being passed over. So he’s shocked when he is able to remove a sword from a stone at a construction site.
Turns out Alex has found Excalibur and has been chosen by Merlin to lead a revolt against Morgana, who hopes to take over the modern world. Now the unexpected hero must recruit knights to fight evil.
If you’ve got younger family members, this good-hearted film will probably thrill them with its whimsy and adventure. For parents and other adults it might be a slog.
Prospects: Flickering • PG • 132 mins.
Baker (Matthew McConaughey) lives a quiet life as a charter boat captain for rich customers. When ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) shows up on his doorstep bruised and begging for protection from her new husband, Baker is conflicted.
He wants to help Karen and protect their son from violence, but he had hoped to be finished with his own violent past. Can he commit murder for the woman he used to love? Or is another game afoot?
A January release of a thriller starring two Oscar winners is never a good sign. I predict a waste of two charismatic performers on a TV-quality mystery.
Prospects: Dim • R • 106 mins.