The ultimate venue in which to immerse yourself into the mid-1900s movie-making magnificence of “Stan and Ollie” is the main screen of the Coronado Village Theatre. The room’s gilded decor, soaring molded ceilings and lush velvet seating perfectly pairs with the film’s scripted timeline. When the grand, ruby-red curtain parts to reveal the central screen for the main feature, you’re awaiting an elegant cinematic event.
Indeed, in the sweeping entrance of Stan (Laurel) and Ollie (Hardy) casually strolling through Hollywood stage sets, you’re right there within their quippy, clever, animated conversation. Clearly there’s joy in this relationship, the light banter, the active background of actors populating the over-the-top famous movies of the time, all well-enhanced by a delightfully spirited, flute-filled symphony.
The way Stan (a brash, rude, direct, yet brilliantly left-field–creative, constipated-faced Steve Coogan) and Ollie (a jovially easygoing John C. Reilly, completely fat-suit believable) interact with others working on set — especially the ladies — shows the clear love each one has for what they do as a performer, and a heartfelt appreciation for where they have the privilege of working. Take note: This is the apex of the duo’s run, when they were stars booking sellout live musical shows and known to millions of TV viewers worldwide.
And then the story — but not the movie itself — begins a slow downslide into the pair’s professional nadir. It turns out that Ollie’s studio contract is still in place when Stan’s expires, even while they have pledged a pact to create their own production company that controls their future works. Stan finds himself unmoored without his partner, so while he waits for Ollie’s contract to terminate he signs on with another studio to star in a “Laurel and Hardy”-style musical comedy remake of Robin Hood. Ollie, meanwhile, is also lost without his sidekick, and gets roped into “That Elephant Movie,” as well as continuing the Laurel and Hardy act with a Stan imposter.
As audiences tumble and live bookings plummet throughout the next decade, the partners finally reunite via a slick-shady, fast-talking agent in England. Realizing a boonswaggling, Laurel and Hardy decide to take their careers into their own hands. It’s time to ramp up their live skits, singing and dancing routines, and move into bigger, better, fully-booked live venues in London. Goal: Raise funds — in absentia from Stan’s whisp-o’-will, noncommitted producer — for finally kicking off production of Robin Hood (or, as Laurel and Hardy joke, “Rob Them Good”).
Viewer tip: Throughout, look for small, quick wit. When passing by the London Tower, Laurel quips, “There it is! The Eiffel Tower!” Such hidden, unacknowledged gems are frequent rewards for observant moviegoers.
It’s a fascinating story, to be sure, told with a terrifically visual edge that manages an artsy angle in mostly sepia tones and charcoal shadows — which means that when vivid colors do appear, they really pop. And both Coogan and Reilly crunch into Laurel and Hardy’s accents and mannerisms, creating completely believable characters who nail every performance.
The script wanders at times but is generally unobjectionable, and includes some laugh-out-loud, testily-barbed conversations. Of special delight are Laurel and Hardy’s wives, Ida (Nina Arlanda) and Lucille (Shirley Henderson), who play their roles right up to the precipice of perfection in the sultry, red-clawed, chain-smoking, malapropism-prone Russian and the hesitant, harried, helium-voiced wife pit-bullishly protective of her kind-hearted husband.
Ultimately, “Stan and Ollie” is thoroughly enjoyable for its take-a-beat cinematography and the stellar main actors’ performances. You totally buy Laurel and Hardy as the international headlining act that they once were, and their wives as supportive and loving partners. Most of all, you believe Coogan and Reilly when they’re on stage, as they completely outdo the grace and timing, talent, and comedic brilliance of of the original “Stan and Ollie” that they’re re-creating.
Quick Review: “A Fine Trip Back in Time.” Catch it at the Coronado Village Theatre for the perfect retro movie experience.
Running Time: 97 minutes
Stars: John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Danny Huston
Directed by: Jon S. Baird
Rating: PG: Some language, suggestive sexual situations