@Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 11 Jan 2019
There’s been much hype around the launch of Stan & Ollie. Not least in Scotland, as the director, Jon S Baird, hails from our own shores. It’s a winning formula – a biopic charting the latter years of the best loved onscreen comedy duo of all time. It’s warm, gentle, thoughtful and often touching, especially so in the final scenes. But with high profile marketing and a large number of award nominations pre-release (including BAFTAs and Golden Globes) come great expectations…
The disappointment is that the film is often pedestrian and doesn’t make it easy to invest in the characters – unless you arrive as a pre-invested, die-hard Laurel and Hardy fan (which most critics and audience members will likely be). Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly put in completely believable, detailed interpretations of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy individually. But as a pair they somehow lack the necessary chemistry, until the last half hour of the piece. Their final few scenes are, in contrast, emotive and moving. An utterly beautiful ending saves what can at times be a bit dull otherwise. There are plenty of amusing moments in the film. Although in a packed cinema, only twice was there an audible light titter at this showing. Not what you might expect from something ‘funny’.
The most riveting performance in this is Nina Arianda. A surprise, given her billing beneath Coogan, Reilly and Shirley Henderson (Lucille Hardy). Arianda brings a well observed portrayal of Laurel’s Russian wife Ida that lights up the screen. Her delivery brims with wit – aided by the script, affording her some of the funniest lines in the movie. Her intolerant, straight talking, opinionated and direct approach is perfectly executed. No two-dimensional sidekick, her unshakable loyalty and fierce love for her man makes her character lovable and rounded, complementing and having the same effect on her onscreen partner’s character. The chemistry may be lacking at times between Reilly and Coogan, but Arianda and Coogan have it by the bucket load. Their scenes, along with the double act of Ida and Lucille, are pure joy.
Stan & Ollie is an easy watch, and the final third of the film is very involving. The many sequences recreating legendary moments from the duo’s career are a sweet tribute, offering charming reminiscence – especially when the original versions are screened along with the closing credits.