Film Review: Stan & Ollie

Stan & Ollie is a paint by numbers biopic through and through, sucking the life out of the, usually, exciting funny men Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly.

Now, I’m no Laurel and Hardy aficionado, but man, does this film just basically feel like someone taking a step back and saying, “Weren’t the good ole days great?” I mean, I guess? Coogan and Reilly recreate a number of their most famous bits, taking up a lot of the film’s runtime, and I was just sitting there wondering, what is the point of all of this? Seeing these good actors recreate these acts is, i guess technically impressive? But the filmmaking brings nothing to the table and shoots everything about as dull as possible. It all just feels so safe.

And the paint by numbers comment isn’t just a cliche, this film hits all of the expected turns within a couple minutes of when it’s “supposed” to happen. I mean, I just don’t know what this is supposed to bring to the table? I thought we were past making movies like this? I know I’m being very hard, and the film is competent at every turn, but it never tries to do anything to make it stand out or pop; outside a long take steadicam shot to open the film (which seemed to be three shots to me). Director Jon S. Baird puts no stamp on the film beyond that, shooting the rest of the film with zero ounces of ingenuity.

I think the biggest let down was the aforementioned stars of the film, Coogan and Reilly, really doing nothing but blandly recreating these beloved personas. Are they authentic, I don’t know, but they sure are boring. Nina Arianda brings the most life to the picture as Stan’s wife, and the lives of the wives with their husbands would have been much better served exploring than this standard arc of drama between these two stars delivers. Shirley Henderson is left with not much to do besides being a stressing wife, but the few tender moments we get with her and Reilly are compelling. The post-script for the movie actually has a more interesting movie that I’d like to see, with Coogan as Laurel continuing to write skits and movies for the two long after Hardy had passed.

There isn’t much else to say about Stan & Ollie because it doesn’t really try to be anything worth talking about. Everyone seems to basically be mailing it in with no one taking any chances along the way; sort of like this review. The biopic has become an often tired exercise in filmmaking and Stan & Ollie doesn’t try to do anything to not join those ranks. If you are a fan of Laurel & Hardy you might get something out of this to compare Coogan and Reilly to the legends, but other than that, maybe fans of solid makeup and prosthetic work will enjoy themselves.

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