Screenings: February 8-14
Show Times: Nightly at 7:30 pm. Saturday matinee at 1:30 pm; Sunday matinee at 2:30 pm. Open caption screening Sunday night. No one will be admitted after the film has started.
Admission: Regular $7; Matinees $6; MVFS Members $5; Seniors over 60, Military and Students with ID $6; Wednesdays $5. We do not sell tickets in advance. Doors open 45 minutes before showtime.
Running Time: 97 min
Film Director: Jon S. Baird
Replace flirtation and sex with pratfalls and comic repartee and “Stan & Ollie” is a heartstrings-yanking Hollywood romance.
Portraying the final days of the remarkable partnership of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, the greatest double act in the history of movies, the tightly focused narrative finds these comedians past their prime, not just in their career but also in their relationship. (They are on a theater tour to raise money for a film comeback.) Like a married couple that stopped fighting long ago, their exchanges hint at buried resentments, muffled irritations and an abiding love.
The director Jon S. Baird’s observant and genial portrait includes many scenes where these master comics are performing, but the primary purpose doesn’t appear to be to convince you of their comic genius, but rather to display their ease with each other, the charge and excitement of a connection. Doing their gentle dance routines or farcical double-door bits, they are perfect together. Once they go offstage, they have chemistry — but it’s complicated.
Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly deliver dynamite performances that capture the expressions and physicality of the star comedians without ever descending into caricature. They never strain for laughs but are consistently amusing. As Laurel, who wrote the comic bits and was the more tortured star, Coogan communicates a tremendous amount of anxiety and discord in a slight downturn of the lips. Equally subtle and emotionally grounded, Reilly portrays Hardy as a big man with a light touch, so laid-back so as to be almost reckless.
Both men had difficult relationships with women, which are alluded to, but not explored in any complexity, though Nina Arianda makes a meal out of a snack, playing the formidable Russian wife of Laurel, perpetually skeptical of the comics’ promoter, Bernard Delfont (a wonderfully oily Rufus Jones).
But the focus here never strays far from the prickly friendship at its center. There are a few knowing jokes, such as when Laurel and Hardy push a trunk up stairs, in an echo of their famous comic bit from “The Music Box,” in which they move a piano, but this time, when it slips out of their hands, Hardy just stares at the fallen object at the bottom of the stairs and says: “Do we really need that trunk?”
Such nods to their comic triumphs are few, and as the cracks in their relationship begin to show, the movie builds to a major blowup between the two in a party scene when they exhume old grievances and fight like bitter siblings. Laurel says he did all the creative work and was repaid by a lack of loyalty, while Hardy cuts even deeper, calling his longtime partner a hollow man fueled by jealousy for Charlie Chaplin. When Laurel angrily tosses a piece of food at Hardy’s head, the crowd observing this dispute mistake it for a bit, laughing and shouting, “Bravo!” It’s a funny and dark moment, one that comedians would understand.
But this movie is not a dark portrait of the expectations of a fickle audience. This loud dispute is necessary for the reconciliation that follows, one that tips over into sentimentality. Most movies about comedians present them as harsh and brooding collectors of neuroses, but Coogan and Reilly even at their most contentious present Laurel and Hardy as gentle, flawed figures.
Their signature bit here is not a knock on the head or grappling with gravity while pushing a piano, but a delicate dance, one that leaves the crowds roaring in laughter. You might wonder why people back then found these moves so hilarious — and some of the comedy of Laurel and Hardy ages better than others — but one should never underestimate a charming duet between equally matched partners. Jason Zinoman, NY Times. Rated PG (for some language, and for smoking).