Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Stan & Ollie

For a guy who often feels like a character actor or ensemble player, John C. Reilly played a title character in four different movies in 2018 (The Sisters Brothers, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Holmes & Watson, and Stan & Ollie). Eric Snider captured half of that in his always-entertaining piece on end-of-year stats, but the full list kind of amuses and impresses me, because it's a pretty broad range of movies in which Reilly is, on the one hand, always himself, but in at least three cases, not so at the detriment of the film, which is especially impressive in this one, where he's playing a real and very recognizable person. I guess that's arguably the definition of a great character actor, but you don't often see that put to use as that sort of lead.

Kind of a shame that none of those parts got him nominated for an Oscar this year; The Sisters Brothers was a great performance in the middle of a middling movie, and this one is pretty darn nice. I really hope the fact that Sony Pictures Classics positioned it as an award contender with the Christmas limited release, slow expansion keyed to the awards announcements, etc., doesn't work against it as a bunch of theaters that would have booked it on this coming Friday decide, no, we need to bring A Star Is Born back.

Stan & Ollie

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 January 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #7 (first-run, DCP)

Stan and Ollie is an affectionate film about a couple of people who, by all appearances, seem to deserve that affection, and that's not as easy to pull off as you might think. It's easy to wind up making something too lightweight, or insert too much external strife to create drama. This film rearranges things, but never loses track of how a great deal of what made Laurel & Hardy work on-screen is also what makes their real-life relationship compelling.

In 1937, Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) were one of Hollywood's biggest draws, although their contracts with Hal Roach (Danny Huston) kept them on a leash. By 1953, they were yesterday's news, although they had plans for a comeback picture, a take on Robin Hood. To drum up interest, they booked a tour of Great Britain, although promoter Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones) is only able to book them into small venues. Hopefully they'll be doing better by the time their wives (Shirley Henderson & Nina Arianda) arrive in London.

There have always been two Stan Laurels and two Oliver Hardys, and the makers of this movie seem to love both versions equally, and base their entire approach to the film on this. Stanley Laurel was a sharp comedy mind who planned their gags meticulously and agitated for a better deal rather than a simpleton while Oliver "Babe" Hardy doesn't have his onscreen persona's short temper, but their alter egos fit them like gloves, and when they arrive at their first (rather small) hotel, they enter doing a bit. It's a delightful comic moment that does a lot - it lets Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly to do some Laurel & Hardy-style comedy without simply recreating something from one of their films, it gives the audience an idea of just how practiced these guys are, and the generosity of it goes a long way to establishing the audience's fondness for the guys. They're giving away a bit of what they do for a living, for an audience of one woman at the front desk, when a lot of people who still think of themselves as big stars would instead be demanding.

Full review at EFC.

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