A firm staple of awards season are industry movies - those that chronicle the making of a beloved classic, or one that offers a behind-the-scenes look at a figure with an extraordinary following. Joining the likes of recent examples such as Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, The Disaster Artist and Trumbo is Stan & Ollie. But where it surpasses previous films is in rising above genre tropes to offer an oddly affecting and deeply romantic look at its subjects, powered by a quartet of terrific star turns.
After a 1930s-set prologue, Stan & Ollie focuses, for the most part, on the time of the comedy duo's careers once the cameras had finished filming. Picking up in the 1950s, when the near-broke stars arrived in the
Central to the appeal of this film (in fact, any film that focus on a real-life figure) is its central casting. John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan have gained a well-earned reputation for both their comedic and dramatic talents, and here they are put to good use. They both exemplary in recreating the duo's comedy routines, as well as the slapstick touches that escape to the real word. But where they stand out is in their chemistry, which manages to power the drama to a point where it tugs on the audience's heartstrings. Reilly is perhaps the more successful at recreating Hardy's notable physicality and voice, aided as he is by terrific make-up. But Coogan holds his own, and together they are the film's greatest asset.
It is notable that the film doesn't really spark into life until the arrival of the pair's wives, who themselves make a fun double act. Shirley Henderson is endearingly sweet in her affections, whilst Nina Arianda brings a refreshing sharpness as
The film is a further triumph on a technical level, marshalled by skilled directing from Jon S. Baird (whose previous film, Filth, is one worth checking out). As well as a sprightly, keenly observed script from Jeff Pope, the attention to period detail is magnificent, allowing audiences to wallow in the world of both 30s Hollywood and 50s Britain. While it feels like this film has been mostly ignored this award season it is heartening to see it receive a nomination for Best Make Up/Hair at this year's BAFTAs.
Stan & Ollie surprised me, managing to surpass other films that focus on the movie industry. Thanks to four fabulous starring roles and a technical prowess that is rather immersive, this is a film that will both cause a chortle and tug on your heartstrings. It is a strangely compelling mix of nostalgia and melancholy that will inspire audiences to seek out some of the works of the subjects at its core.