Abbott & Costello, Martin & Lewis, Cheech & Chong. In the annuals of famous comedy teams, there were none more famous than Laurel & Hardy. Rail-thin Stan Laurel from England and portly American Oliver Hardy were paired up in 1927 and set the slapstick comedy world on fire with their hilarious antics for decades.
We pick up their story in 1937 where the boys, hotter than ever in show biz, are having troubles during the making of their Western comedy, Way Out West. Y’see, this brilliant comedic duo couldn’t be any different: Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) is the brains behind the act; intelligent, financially responsible, and the team’s comedy writer, he puts up with his 300lb partner, Oliver Hardy (unrecognizable John C. O’Reilly in heavy prosthetics) who drinks, smokes, gambles, and likes to get married… a lot. However, their movie contract with studio head Hal Roach (Danny Huston) has reached an impasse and Oliver wants to negotiate. Again.
We fast-forward 16 years and the boys, weary and older, are starting the long-leg of a British stage tour, now that their American film days are pretty much over. Doing their cheesy, but nonetheless hilarious routines from the movies on stage, the crowds are sparse, but thanks to their scheming road manager, Bernard (Rufus Jones), soon their audience numbers grow to epic proportions. Even Stan & Ollie’s wives are thrilled when they join them. As Stan’s over-bearing Russian wife, Ida (Nina Arianda) pressures him to complete his proposed Robin Hood movie script, Ollie’s long-suffering wife, Lucille (Shirley Henderson) just wants “Babe” to keep his health due to his massive size.
As the tour continues, Stan & Ollie share secrets, old wounds are opened, and some of the funniest Laurel & Hardy bits are magically recreated on stage by two of the most gifted performers you’ll ever see. While screenwriter Jeff Pope (Essex Boys) is more famous for his movies & TV credits in Britain, this script is spot-on for the American actors portrayed that we all know and love here in the USA. And even though the setting is very British, the dramatic and poignant story of Laurel & Hardy is universal. Beautifully written, and without all that added schmaltz you see with most bio-pic’s these days. The dialogue is well crafted and real, giving us an honest, inside look at the two beloved aging performers that the world idolized.
Director Jon S. Baird (again, you’ll only know his British credits) adds layers to this melodrama with his simple camera work, letting O’Reilly & Coogan (both comedy masters) play with their characters who, by the way, so totally inhabit the real people they’re portraying, you completely forget about the astonishing make-up. Which brings me to these two exceptional actors, having to recreate iconic scenes from Laurel & Hardy’s past, and doing such an excellent job it’s jaw-dropping. I grew up with L&H short films and movies, and I can say without a doubt, that watching this movie was about as genuine as it gets in actually seeing L&H in real life. If these two do NOT get some kind of award for their performance, someone’s gonna pay!!
Bud & Lou (1978)