My Own Personal Babysitters
Ever since I was a kid, I have always been really hard to handle. I would scream, shout and break stuff. The only way to stop my incessant screaming would be to turn the TV on. So, my mom would put on what-ever DVDs that were available at the corner store. One of these was a double billing of Laurel & Hardy’s Way Out West and Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. I wore these films out, watched them over and over again. In the hindside, I had no idea what they were talking about, they were just funny to me. What made especially Laurel & Hardy special to me was how universal their comedy was. So, when I heard about the prospect of a biopic (Stan & Ollie) about them, I was super-excited for it.
The Real Laurel & Hardy
The film opens with a very long tracking shot of the two talking about various aspects of their personal lives. They are walking through the sets of Way Out West as they are doing so. We see the seeds being laid to what would eventually come. It’s understood that Oliver “Ollie” Hardy is very bad at managing his finances. And Stanley “Stan” Laurel is someone who is very temperamental and short-fused. We then skip 16 years later, where everybody believes that they have retired. But they need to tour London in the hopes of getting finances in place for a new movie. By then they have split up for a long period of time and lost most of their money. We also see flashes of their past that led to their obscurity.
Does Not Wallow In The Sad Clown Trope
There aren’t really that many movies that deal with male friendships and the various dynamics that come into play when finances and career are involved. A lot of the entertainers at that time would be in pairs, but not a lot of them shared as much mutual respect as these two did. Through the two phases, we see the toll that their loyalty to each other has caused them and their friendship. While the movie does touch on the idea that true comedy comes from some amount of conflict and tragedy, it never wallows in the cliched sad clown antics. The film-makers smartly weave in some of their gags into the film, like the hotel lobby scene and the heavy suitcase as references to their films.
The Sad Reality
Most of the film takes place in the latter part of their life, where both of them are extremely committed to two really sweet women. While they were successful, they would pride themselves over their vain conquests and divorces, but they could only find peace when they found two people that loved them for who they were. There is this beautifully moving scene, where due to a slip of the tongue Stan and Ollie get into a verbal spat in public. This leads to a small physical fight, but the people just applaud thinking that it was a gag. This kind of made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy because people could not imagine them to be angry and sad because nobody would actually look at them as normal people.
Pitch Perfect Casting
The best part of the film was the casting. Steve Coogan and John.C.Reilly as Stan & Ollie respectively, capture the brilliant physicality of their idols that made me forget that I was watching a recreation sometimes. They found a way to humanise them while never forgetting the theatricality of their lives. The thing about these slap-stick gags is that they need to performed with perfect precision for the joke to land. Steve and John pull this off perfectly.
Seek out the film if you are interested in having a peek behind the curtain into the lives of some of the greatest entertainers of all time.