Few couples can say they starred in over 100 films, influenced generations of comedians, and outlasted seven marriages. However, the partnership between Stan Laurel and Oliver “Babe” Hardy did all that and more. “Stan & Ollie” is a biopic that follows the legendary vaudeville duo in the twilight years of their career as they work to stay relevant. The film is both clever and poignant, celebrating the lives and legacy of one of the world’s most famous comedy teams.
Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) rose to fame in the late 1920s with their slapstick-style humor. Despite their talent and success, they struggled in the late 1940s to land a steady gig and make ends meet. And so in 1953 they embarked on a tour of second-tier theatres in Britain hoping it would revive their popularity and help them land another big movie contract. The film follows them as they do the heavy lifting—literally and figuratively—to make the show and their relationship work.
Coogan and Reilly are both delightful in their portrayals of these two legends. They make the stage show look easy and their resemblance to the original talent is uncanny. Their wives, Ida Lauren (Nina Arianda) and Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson), are similarly fantastic. We get a rich sense of the complexity of Stan and Ollie, both as individuals and in their relationship on and off the stage. It would have been easy to focus only on their comedy and public personas, and instead we got to peek behind the curtains to see them whole and flawed. In the same way, it would have been easy for the film to relegate Stan and Ollie’s wives to arm candy, but instead they were present with wit, charm, and opinions.
There were lots of opportunities to see the magic that occurred when these two were on stage. I knew the duo in name only before watching the film. Yet while familiarity with their work may have added to the magic, it wasn’t a prerequisite for enjoyment. My favourite skit was a clip from “Berth Marks” where they were meeting at a train station and ended up just missing each other because they kept walking and looking the wrong way. The choreography, coordination, and collaboration required were evocative of a delicate ballet.
Stan and Ollie’s unbreakable friendship between is the biggest theme throughout the whole film, to the point where it almost feels like a romantic comedy at times. The film explores the challenges of a long-term professional relationship, the dangers of unvoiced expectations, the damage caused by betrayal, and the importance of good communication and forgiveness. There was one particularly touching scene when Ollie’s health was in decline and Stan sat in bed with him and held his hand. In a time when the concept of toxic masculinity is making waves, it was powerful to see two men be kind and vulnerable together.
“Stan & Ollie” is the story of a bond between two very different individuals. It is a touching tribute that honors the golden age of vaudeville and two masters of the art form. The film will make you want to dive into the Laurel and Hardy archives, as I did, to enjoy their original work and to celebrate their friendship and legacy.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.