Sometimes one gets away from you. When Stan and Ollie was first was released I knew I wanted to see it, but for some reason didn't. Maybe it was my impression that the reviews were lackluster. And, in reading back through them, they feel that way. In the Times, Jason Zinoman (who for my money often misses the mark), was assigned to review, though he rarely if ever reviews films. For some reason they have designated him their "comedy" critic, and I guess that's why they threw this film his way. It's not that his review is a pan, it's that he writes about it with utter disinterest and any praise is grudging. His review is disdainful.
I was flying back from Europe recently and looking for a film or two to while away the hours when I came across Stan and Ollie. It is wonderful, from start to finish, wonderful. That it gained no traction in awards season, that both Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly weren't nominated, that the film was not a Best Picture nominee (in an era where it seems that anything released in a movie theater garners a Best Picture nod), is a terrible shame.
When I say that this is a gentle comedy about two gentle comedians I mean it as the highest praise. Here we get a glimpse into the chemistry and grace that made Laurel and Hardy the most beloved and revered comedic duo in the world. More than that we get a beautiful rendering of a relationship and friendship between two men who are bound together, who love each other and how complicated that can be.
But what really sets this film several cuts above virtually any of the over-hyped juggernauts of 2019 (I do not include Parasite or Pain & Glory in the foregoing) are the brilliantly and deceptively off-hand performances of Coogan and Reilly. Virtually any other actor would have flirted with if not succumbed to caricature. That these performances succeed so completely -- that they embody Stan and Ollie from the inside and on the outside without a shred of "acting" -- is almost a virtual impossibility and even now, reflecting back on these performances, I am in awe of what Coogan and Reilly achieved. And they just make it look so easy.
The result is that we get to see Stan and Ollie doing their most famous comedy routines with perfect timing and effortless charm. I found myself laughing out loud on the airplane -- the comedy was so fresh and true. And we get to see the strains on their personal friendship, portrayed without histrionics or melodrama. I found myself crying on the plane -- the emotional moments were so poignant and subtle.
Load this one up, folks, and watch it. I fear for too many of us, this is one that got away.