Directed by: Jon S. Baird – Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Nina Arianda, Rufus Jones
Decades after both their deaths, Laurel & Hardy remain one of the most beloved comedy-duos of all time. Their on-screen antics still raise a chuckle almost a century after many of them were committed to screen, and it is easy to see why they were two of the biggest superstars of the post-depression era in the United States, when cinema provided a welcome respite for the public from the desperation on their doorsteps.
It will surprise some people then to learn that by the 1950s, they were touring small venues in the UK, and staying in second-rate boarding houses, due to a downturn in their financial and professional fortunes. Even their tour manager is more interested in his hot new act, Norman Wisdom!
This film lovingly covers that era, as the two men, who have worked together for decades, finally get to know one another, and develop a true friendship, while soldiering on through humiliations and health issues.
Coogan and Reilly play the titular twosome, and give truly remarkable performances. At times, it is as if they are channelling the duo, rather than impersonating them, such is the accuracy of their idiosyncrasies. At times, you forget that you are not watching the real Laurel & Hardy in action.
It’s not always an easy watch. Although this touches on their glory days in the opening, the bulk of the film deals with them coming to terms with their declining popularity. Forced to do publicity for shows to boost sales, old harboured resentments come to the fore. These are only exacerbated by the arrival of their wives (Arianda and Henderson) who aggravate an already tense situation, although both think they are acting in their husband’s best interests.
Throughout, the pair hold on to the hope that they will get to make a comeback film about Robin Hood (this was actually on the table in 1947, and therefore is chronologically out of sync, but works well as a dramatic tool here) and soldier on like the old pros that they are, continuing to give their all to the performances.
And what performances they are. Recreated brilliantly, even today their shtick still raises a laugh, and Coogan and Reilly have clearly gone to great pains to do justice to the duo’s talent.
Baird has perfectly captured the era in terms of look and feel, and there is a certain charm to the whole piece. You can tell that this is a labour of love, and it is extremely bittersweet and affectionate.
This is a melancholy look at life after superstardom, and the loneliness that can be experienced despite being loved by millions. Ultimately, it is the story of a creative marriage and its ups-and-downs, and the love between two men who only really discovered each other when the career that had been holding them together began to fade.
It’s a wonderful tribute to a beloved partnership that will make you laugh, but also bring a tear to your eye. Especially poignant are the closing credits, which show footage and images of the real pair on the actual tour featured in the movie.
A must for classic movie aficionados, but anyone who likes their drama mixed with pathos and humour will love this as well.
In Cinemas January 11th! Trailer below: