Directed by Jon S. Baird, Stan & Ollie is a sweet tribute to the legendary comedy duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy during the last hurrah of their career. The film offers a believable off-screen look at the men and their relationship.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy came to Hal Roach Studios separately. The Lucky Dog (1921) was the first time they appeared in the same film. They appeared in other films over the years, but weren’t billed as a comedy team until Putting Pants on Philip (1927). However, they were under separate contracts, which Roach took advantage of.
Feeling undervalued and underpaid, Stan (Steve Coogan) lets producer Hal Roach (Danny Huston) know he’s not happy about their financial arrangement. He refuses to renew their deal and was ready to take the team to another studio, but Ollie (John C. Reilly) was still under contract. Unfortunately, not only can’t Ollie leave but he has to keep appearing in Roach’s movies, which Stan takes as a betrayal, unfairly as that was. Stan eventually came back, but as the years progressed, their movies weren’t as successful, and new comedy duos were box-office hits, such as Abbot & Costello, Hope & Crosby, and Martin & Lewis.
Stan & Ollie finds them during a UK theater tour in 1953 with Stan suggesting its going to spur interest in them, which will lead to another film which he is talking to producers about. It had been two years since their last one, the international production Atoll K, and over a decade since one had been held in high esteem by many. Their tour manager is a shady fellow, who hasn’t booked them in the nicest of theaters or accommodations.
In addition to the comedy in the routines they perform for audiences within the film, there are moments that reference their films. One time, they have a problem with a suitcase sliding down a staircase, a nod to their Oscar-winning short The Music Box, but it’s not clear if they are actually having difficulty with it or if it was something that Stan played with to develop material and practice his slapstick skills.
Stan & Ollie reveals that just because they were business partners, they weren’t really close friends, but there is a mutual admiration and affection for one another, especially with Ollie’s health issues. Coogan and Reilly are superb in the roles. They did more than just recreate Laurel & Hardy’s on-screen personas and antics. With Jeff Pope’s script, both actors created well-rounded portraits that honor the men.
Laurel & Hardy fans should enjoy Stan & Ollie and it tells an interesting story that those who don’t know the duo can appreciate.