First Hit: This is an outstanding, beautiful, love story about how two men spent their lives together making audiences laugh.
Like a married couple, Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) spent years of their lives together. In that time together, their bond of respect and friendship developed while on the road doing shows and making films making people laugh.
This film begins with the men doing a scene for a movie in their heyday. They are kibitzing in a trailer talking about the number of marriages Oliver had, all the money he had to give to these ex-wives, and his love for the ponies. The scene they shoot is one of their favorite dance routines, and it is a sight to behold.
Stan, on the other hand, was always working, writing, and thinking of gags for the duo to use in their films or stage act. As they enter the set to shoot a scene, Stan wants Oliver and himself to start their own production company because they do all the work and manager-producer Hal Roach (Danny Huston) and the film company is making all the money. Stan can get out of his contract, but Oliver cannot. They split up.
We see a brief scene where Oliver does a movie (“the elephant film”) with someone else.
The film then shifts to sixteen years later, and they are in their sixties. Their old movies still show in theaters, but few people see them, and they receive no royalties for their work. They both need money and Stan, who has never stopped working, is attempting to get financing together for a Laurel & Hardy film version of Robin Hood. To help them finance the film and to demonstrate their draw, they decide to tour England, Ireland, and Scotland to drum up interest. The hope is that the possible financier will see them in a London show.
The tour starts slowly, and they play tiny second-rate houses, stay in second-rate hotels, and the crowds are small. However, the people who do come to the shows, love them. Harry Landon (Richard Cant), their tour organizer decide they have to do some promotional newsreels. So, the film shows them promoting their shows and all of a sudden, the theaters are packed and their playing in front of audiences of 2,000.
When they reach London their respective wives, Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson) and Ida Kitaeva Laurel (Nina Arlanda) show up to see the big show in one of London’s most prominent theaters.
Lucille and Ida are a hoot together and separately as they are very different people and care about their husbands differently. However, the tour has been tough on both, especially Oliver. His weight challenges his heart, and his ability to move has been difficult. Then the underlying animosity, because Oliver did a film without Stan, comes out in a public argument.
Oliver has a mild heart attack and decides to retire. Stan tries to go on with a British replacement, but he cannot, it’s not Oliver, his partner, friend, and original cohort.
As the film winds up, Stan and Oliver do one more show and do their dance routine, it is sublime and brought such joy to my heart watching them.
Reilly was amazing. His expressions and ability to be Oliver Hardy was beyond anything I thought he could do. I was transported to 1957 as a little boy laughing out loud watching Laurel and Hardy on our black and white television. Coogan was equally fantastic as Stan Laurel. His routines, the one with the egg, were sublime. Arlanda and Henderson, Laurel and Hardy’s respective wives, were hilarious. I loved watching them snipe at each other and then, when watching their husbands’ last show, holding hands. Huston was superb as Hal Roach as was Cant in his role. Jeff Pope wrote a divine script. Jon S. Baird took this script and these amazing actors and made superb, finely crafted film.
Overall: I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film and would watch it again.