Stan and Ollie
This film reminded me of Warren Zevon’s last song before he died, Keep Me In Your Heart for a While.
Stan and Ollie, directed by John S. Baird, is a charming little film that focuses on how friendship fights to survive given the harsh reality of the aging process. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly give endearing performances as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, a comedy duo that rivalled the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges in popularity.
Our boys’ remarkable career spanned the transition from silent films to talkies, and they were at the peak of their game during the Depression-ravaged 1930s. Both subtle and a bit caustic, they had a remarkable talent for making fun of themselves that caused the audience to constantly laugh.
In this movie, you watch our duo travel to England in 1953 to try to salvage a professional career nearing its end. Accompanied by wives played memorably by Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson, Hardy was fighting severe heart problems while Laurel was haunted by an episode occurring decades earlier where Hardy left him and acted alone in a film.
Despite all of this, our boys became a great hit in Britain, and eventually performed in front of sold-out audiences. While you get to see them perform some of their classic stunts, the value of the film flows from its depiction of two old friends trying to maintain obvious affection for each other as they drift into life’s sunset.
Oddly, while this is not a film that you would call a great movie, it does tell a great story that should resonate with nearly everyone. First and foremost, it is helped by the lovable performances of Steve Coogan as Laurel and John C. Reilly as Hardy. Coogan has previously displayed some remarkable skills as a comic who knows how to underplay his role, and if you doubt that then go hunt down his performances in his three travel movies called The Trip (2011), The Trip to Italy (2014) and The Trip to Spain (2017), not to mention his unforgettable performance with Ms. Judi Dench in Philomena (2013).
As for Mr. Reilly, forget his mistaken decision to appear in this year’s Holmes & Watson and watch him in Kong: Skull Island (2017), The Little Hours (2017) and last year’s The Sisters Brothers. And while you’re at it, re-watch both Sing (2016) and this year’s Oscar-nominated Ralph Breaks the Internet, animated films where Mr. Reilly makes strong contributions.
As inferred above, I found myself having a strong emotional reaction to this movie. Having turned 72 this past December, I can’t help but face the reality of existing in a professional world that has dramatically changed. Many judges that I admired have retired as have some very good friends, and the environment that I enter each day simply isn’t the same.
I have to laugh at myself as I enter court and look at a bevy of young deputy prosecutors and public defenders whose names I can’t recall. Good grief, what happened to the days when I would regularly have a “short one” in some local watering hole with many of their predecessors?
It is giving nothing away to say that Laurel and Hardy never perform together again after returning from England. Hardy died two years later while Laurel retired, dying in 1965.
Another lesson learned from this film is that you are quickly forgotten in life regardless of your success. As lawyers, it is wise to remember the observation made by the late, great criminal defense attorney Owen Mullin: “You don’t quit the practice of law, son, it quits you.”