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“Stan & Ollie” paints a moving, wholehearted portrait of the comedy greats


The performances by John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy and Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel are uncanny. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)


Blu-ray, 2018, PG for some language and for smoking; Streaming Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Best extra: Q&A with director Jon S. Baird, stars Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly and Shirley Henderson, and prosthetics makeup designer Mark Coulier

JON S. BAIRD cried when he read the script. Steve Coogan knew that honoring the memory of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy and getting it right would be “a big mountain to climb.” John C. Reilly wasn’t worried about looking the part, his concern was “whether I’d feel like this guy.”

His mantra? “Oliver. Oliver. Oliver.”

Their Q&A, in which they’re joined by Shirley Henderson, who plays Hardy’s wife Lucille, and Oscar-winning prosthetics makeup designer Mark Coulier (“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Iron Lady”), highlights a decent package of extras on this exceptional movie. There’s also three short, (mostly) run-of-the-mill features and a couple of deleted/extended scenes.

But Sony dropped the ball by not including a few Laurel and Hardy shorts. Yeah, it was probably due to who-knows-what legal hurdles, but they could’ve been cleared. Viewers of an, ahem, certain vintage would get an even deeper appreciation for “Stan & Ollie” and those who aren’t familiar with Hollywood’s greatest comedy duo ever would see why they still hold the title.

All we get is footage of them performing their unforgettable dance in 1937’s “Way Out West,” which is re-created in the movie. Look close: It’s at the bottom of the screen next to the credits.

Fortunately, there’s Coogan (“The Trip”) and Reilly (“Chicago”).

Laurel and Hardy on stage.

Their performances are uncanny, but they don’t simply duplicate Stan and Ollie’s routines. In fact, any slapstick is incorporated into the narrative. To wit: After struggling to haul a steamer trunk to the top of the stairs, they drop their guard and, well … guess. It’s a nod to their labors as piano movers in “The Music Box (1932).

Instead, “Stan & Ollie” is an intimate, beautifully told story of friendship, love and loyalty. It opens in 1937 on the set of “Way Out West,” when they were in their prime. Laurel, the workaholic of the duo, wants to get out from under the thumb of producer Hal Roach (Danny Huston). Hardy, who plays the ponies and wouldn’t say no to a drink, isn’t keen on rocking the boat.

The story then shifts to 1953. Their glory days long gone, Stan and Ollie undertake a tour of British music halls to revive their careers and kick-start their comeback movie, a take on the legend of Robin Hood. It doesn’t go well—the venues are second-rate and the crowds sparse. To fill the seats, they agree to make promotional appearances even though they won’t get paid and Ollie’s health is failing.

The Wives - Shirley Henderson as Lucille Hardy and Nina Arianda as Ida Kitaeva Laurel.

Their spirits pick up with the arrival of their wives (Nina Arianda plays Ida Kitaeva Laurel), but even as the audiences grow, the movie deal falls through.

After Ollie suffers a heart attack, Stan is convinced to work with another actor but changes his mind. Oliver ignores his doctor’s advice to return to the States and gets back on stage.

Shot by Laurie Rose (“Peaky Blinders,” the “Pet Sematary” remake), “Stan & Ollie” looks gorgeous. Colors always hit the mark, whether the scene is a sunny Hollywood backlot or a backwater stage. Contrasts are sharp and detail is fine throughout. Really, the visuals are super-impressive. Audio is good, too. There’s plenty of room for the quiet dialogue and the intimate score by Rolfe Kent (“Up in the Air”).

In the Q&A, Baird (“Filth,” TV’s “Vinyl”) remembers getting the script and being told that it wasn’t his kind of project.

“It was absolutely for me,” he says. “I cried when I read it.”

You’ll be moved, too.

- Craig Shapiro





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