My wife and I had to run by Walmart this morning to pick up something and this caught my eye. Already on DVD? And less than $15. I had to pick it up. After all, I had bought my first Laurel and Hardy book around 1971. There were quite a few books on them in the years that followed and I ended up with nearly a full shelf on the boys in one bookcase. By this time, I had followed the making of the movie, and seen my more learned Facebook friends criticize some of the less than factual scenes in it.
The problem with any biographical motion picture is that a person's life (or in this case, two people) simply can't be condensed into a couple hours or less so you have to hit just the highlights. Inevitably, it's boiled down to just some almost random dramatized moments and incidents. And then there's the issue of the filmmakers creating entirely new scenes that never happened in real life. Sometimes with entirely new characters.
The trick with making a good bio-pic is knowing that the reality is not as important as the truth. Rather than just showing a series of disconnected facts in a person's life, show the audience the truth of what that person's life meant, both to them, and others.
The folks who made STAN AND OLLIE get this. Clearly. The film doesn't attempt to give us their lives but rather the ultimate love story at the heart of their later years. After a brief 1930s opening, we cut to Messrs. Laurel and Hardy in the 1950s, touring the UK as their career hits low point after low point. The general audience learns only enough about them to feel what the filmmakers want them to feel.
Central to many classic Laurel and Hardy pictures are the duo's marital relationships. Their real world wives were also central to their life stories and the ones that were there in the 1950s become also major characters here. Delightfully so.
In the end, this one is designed to be all about the feels and I think that works out just perfectly. And all of that begins and ends with the astonishing performances of John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan. It's not just imitations. They absolutely capture the nuances of voice but also the body language. You aren't very far into the picture before you come close to forgetting that you aren't watching the real Stan and Ollie.
If you're a Laurel and Hardy fan, you should appreciate it more than most but even if you've never heard of the team, the deeply human emotions should resonate.