Stan & Ollie Carries a Velvet Hammer

Strong performances all around is this Indie film’s charm.

Sometimes you win a battle by flanking the sides. Director Jon S. Baird successfully dodges legend pandering and embraces the human condition in the endearing Indie film, “Stan & Ollie.”

It’s a beautiful if incomplete picture. In reality the comedic duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were accomplished actors and comedians before they teamed up, so it makes sense we get a small snapshot instead of a mural. The audience doesn’t need a soup to nuts origin story. There is no need to make them heroes. They’re already legends, but putting words to the silent film stars makes them come alive.

The relationship is the crux of the film and it’s played honestly. Screenwriter Jeff Pope has done a similar trick with 2013’s Philomena by using true story material. Rather than re-telling the film, he digs deeper and because the inner lives of Stan and Ollie aren’t saturated in our brains as modern-day comics, the performances feel authentic to the actors and to the source material. It’s refreshing to see none of this done as bio flick-by-numbers.

Steve Coogan, much like the character he is portraying. is doing the yeoman’s work. Laurel is as calculating off screen as he is on. He also doesn’t have an off button as he does the real work in reacting to the emotional toll he’s exacting on himself and Hardy. It’s a wonderful two-handed performance. There has to be an innate talent to exact a Laurel & Hardy bit, even in present time, but the dramatic acting by Coogan, the actor, makes me interested in Laurel, the comedian. John C Reilly gives an award-worthy performance. He’s under pounds of makeup and prosthetics, just under a shade of overkill. Reilly’s performance is so sincere and vulnerable that it melts everything in its wake. The friendship and creative partnership are seen through both pairs of eyes, leaving no one to be a hero or villain. This film also carries more existential dread than Don’t Think Twice, which says everything you need to know.

Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda are the not-so-low-key film standouts as wives Lucille Hardy and Ida Kitaeva Laurel. This duo carries the witty repartee one would expect from their husbands. It’s still acid, but it cuts through the dramatic thickness of their other halves.

Easily one of the best films of 2018. Total Oscar bait.

JP Spence
JP Spence

JP Spence is a writer, screenwriter, and improviser living in Los Angeles. He previously served as the media critic for the Topanga Messenger and as Editor-In-Chief for the LA Valley Star. You can find Josh @JP_Spence on twitter or at any press screening.

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