Orange Thursday: Stan & Ollie (2018)

Touching but unchallenging viewing

Every Thursday, TMINE reviews two movies, carefully avoiding infringing a former mobile phone company’s trademarked marketing gimmick

Just the one movie this week, thanks to… stuff. But it’s a movie about movies, so maybe that counts as two movies?

Stan & Ollie (2018), as the title suggests, is about Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. But it’s set during their farewell tour of the UK in the 1950s, after they’d both retired from movies – or had they? There’s that Robin Hood movie they’ve both been working on. Will that revive their career or be their swansong? To some extent, it’s going to depend on the success of their tour… and it’s not looking good.

The Hardy boys

To be honest, I was expecting more of this, given the glowing reviews. Sure, John C Reilly and Steve Coogan are phenomenal as Hardy and Laurel respectively, to the point where you forget they are the famous actors they are and aren’t the famous actors they’re pretending to be. You do start to think you’re watching Laurel and Hardy.

The period detail’s great, too, and it’s a pleasure to watch Reilly and Coogan recreate the old Laurel and Hardy routines and make them come to life. They still can make you laugh.

You’d also be hard-hearted not to feel something when they fall out, when they get a hero’s welcome in Ireland, when Hardy suffers from ill health and when the theatres are initially less than jam-packed. That doesn’t even touch the poignancy of the end placard and titles, either.

You also get another great double-act: Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy and Nina Arianda as Ida Kitaeva Laurel. Scene-stealers the pair of them.

Stan and Ollie

Unsurprising

But it’s also massively unsurprising. The two actors start off unacknowledged by a public that thinks they’re retired – or being played by actors. They achieve success, they suffer setback, they achieve more success, there’s the third-act twist and then there’s the heart-warming conclusion.

It’s all plotted so predictably.

Reality is what it is, sure, but everything’s so mechanistically designed to follow conventional, well-worn paths, you wouldn’t have been surprised if the whole thing had won an Oscar purely through Pavlovian conditioned reflex.

No time is taken to explore Harry Langdon’s character or career, for example. Hell, I don’t think he even got more than a line. Norman Wisdom gets name-checked a few times without explanation, let alone an appearance. Even Laurel and Hardy’s silent movies had more depth than this.

All of which is a shame, but at least it doesn’t kill what’s often a touching movie about a lifelong friendship and two lifelong friends’ realisation they’ve had a lifelong friendship. It also educates a whole new generation of movie-goers of the power of early movies, how movies used to be made and how much .

I just wish Stan & Ollie hadn’t gone for the low-hanging fruit every single time.

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