A gentle melancholic film about friendship, loss of celebrity status and a glimpse into the old time movie world.
Ironically, the film features real life iconic comedy actors, that most people under a certain age may be completely unaware of.
Laurel and Hardy, two characters inextricably linked like “Morecambe and Wise” or the “Two Ronnies”, each so synonymous as a professional couple, they cannot be separated.
Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) and Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) arguably the most famous of comedy duos (Laurel and Hardy), delighted audiences over some 106 movies between 1921 & 1951.
Researching reaction to the film indicates how much these actors were much loved and remain so even now, some fifty five years after their passing. Many people reminiscing about watching these films with their parents in gentler, slower paced times.
Initial reservations about casting should be put aside as both actors are almost faultless, with Reilly especially unrecognizable in both physicality and manner from his real self. Both actors deserving plaudits for their sensitive portrayals of these treasured characters, finding the humanity behind the comedic mask without tarnishing their reputation.
The film by necessity focuses on the two men and their relationship, but the pair get good support from their wives. Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson) and Ida Kitaeva Laurel (Nina Arianda), are both clearly supportive to their husbands’ careers and well-being, albeit in differing ways.
The film charts the actors’ declining movie career and live show tour of Britain, together with numerous public appearances, which must have been exhausting and a shock from their previous true movie star status.
This was a time when actors, despite working in numerous films, did not earn as well as “A-Lister’s” do now. Admittedly, Oliver in particular liked to spend and both had expensive divorces behind them.
The film plays fast and lose with chronology, concerts were well attended early on and dwindled, which is reversed in the movie for dramatic effect but no matter. The screenplay, acting and direction are beautifully handled with the chemistry obvious between the actors.
In retrospect, the humour in the skits may appear simple and slapstick in nature but continues to grow on the viewer. Over time these reveal the complexity behind the routines, usually meticulously planned by Laurel and executed with care.
Like many comedians when not “on”, they struggle to find their true self when the cameras are not rolling. Watching clips of the real actors on the UK tour, they seem far more confident when “in character”. However, by all accounts both Laurel and Hardy took time to care about their fans and the humour remains universal even now.
As they say it’s all about the ……. timing.
A touching tribute to much loved movie stars that existed in simpler times, before every routine could be trending on Twitter and Facebook.
The film manages to sidestep many of the obvious pitfalls, largely satisfying both long time fans and casual viewers alike.