Hats off to a gem
STAN & OLLIE
(PG, 98 mins)
Jon S Baird
John C Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson
Director: Stars: THE UPSIDE
(12A, 126 mins)
Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman
Director: Stars: COLETTE
(15, 112 mins)
Keira Knightley, Dominic West
NOVELIST Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “I used to laugh my head off at Laurel and Hardy,” in A Man With A Country. “There is terrible tragedy there somehow. These men are too sweet to survive in this world and are in terrible danger all the time. They could so easily be killed.”
I looked up this quote after seeing
a lovely film about the duo’s 1952 theatrical tour of the UK. I laughed my head off watching Steve Coogan and John C Reilly too. They recreate the songs, dances and slapstick routines so joyously that it felt like I was watching the real Stan and Ollie.
But the film isn’t just out to tickle our funny bones. You can also feel Vonnegut’s sense of impending tragedy.
Here the duo are down on their luck and well past their prime. The world has changed since their 1930s heyday. As a dejected Stan stands in front of a Three Stooges poster, you feel his vulnerability. It seems he really might be “too sweet to survive”.
It turns out that director Jon S Baird (Filth) and writer Jeff Pope (Philomena) are quite a double act too. A more obvious biopic would have focused on their glory years and found drama in the power struggles and scandals of Hollywood’s golden age.
Baird and Pope give us the briefest glimpse of their heyday in a clever opening sequence. It’s 1937 and Laurel and Hardy are the biggest comedy stars in the world. In a single take, Baird’s camera sweeps from their dressing room to a sound stage.
By now their double act is 10 years old and as they tip their bowler hats and twiddle their ties to passing technicians and extras, it seems their schtick has become almost instinctive.
With great economy, Pope’s script then sketches in their private relationship. Ollie (Reilly), or Babe to his friends, has gambled his way through his pay packet and the determined Stan wants him to back him up in negotiating a more lucrative contract with producer Hal Roach (Danny Huston).
After a discussion with Roach turns into a row, Stan casually ushers Ollie in front of a Wild West backdrop and tells the director precisely where to place his camera. Then they break into that endearing jig from Way Out West, one of the most life-affirming sequences in the history of cinema.
This is the last we see of comic actors Coogan and Reilly. From here on they will completely disappear into the roles of Laurel and Hardy. We then jump forward 15 years and see the aftermath of Stan’s hardline stance with the studio.
The pair are booking into a cheap hotel in Newcastle ahead of their show in a small theatre. People assume the stars had retired on their fortunes years ago. Others think they must be a tribute act. Their fortunes
Ollie, Stan &
change when their promoter arranges a series of publicity stunts for the newsreels. As the venues gradually get bigger, Stan and Ollie invite their wives to the UK.
Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson are another great double act as the squabbling Mrs Laurel and Mrs Hardy, and provide welcome comic relief when their husbands’ relationship takes a more serious turn.
“You loved Laurel and Hardy but you never loved me,” says Ollie to Stan as long-held resentments come to a head. They sound like an old married couple because they essentially are. When they arrived in the UK, they were looking to resurrect their movie careers and entice a British producer to fund Stan’s new Robin Hood spoof. By the end of their tour, it has almost become a second honeymoon. As Ollie’s health fails and Stan’s film deal evaporates, they realise that all that is left is their friendship.
Now we’re watching a tear-jerking love story, albeit one involving two straight men in their mid-60s. The end credits roll with the real Laurel and Hardy performing their famous jig in front of a saloon packed with gun-slinging desperadoes.
Perhaps this was the sequence that made Vonnegut fear for their lives.
It’s still hilarious but now they are dancing to a slightly different tune. If you’re in the right cinema, the singing cowboys will be accompanied by a chorus of gentle sobs.
Subtitles can have a magical effect on an audience. In some cases, they can transform the most laboured comedy into an absolute riot. Sometimes, it almost seems people are competing to laugh first. I’m guessing those types won’t go to see
Hollywood remake of hit French comedy
The Intouchables. But they would be missing out as it’s one of those rare re-dos that improves on the original.
Here, comic Kevin Hart and Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston add heart and humour to the plot of a syrupy 2011 French comedy about an uptight white quadriplegic who gets his groove back after hiring a black nurse. A surprisingly restrained Hart is at his most likeable as Dell, an ex-con struggling to get his life back on track and connect with his estranged son.
When he accidentally wanders into an interview for a job as nurse to Manhattan billionaire Phil (Cranston), his brusque manner fails to impress Phil’s assistant Yvonne (Nicole Kidman). But grief-stricken Phil senses a way out of his dull existence. To Dell’s shock, he gets the job.
An angry ex-con may not be what the doctor ordered but Phil knows he needs something to shake him from his torpor. The job means Dell has to put someone else’s needs above his own. Phil starts to lighten up and a beautiful friendship is born.
It’s still corny but Cranston has great comic timing, there are some sharp lines and Hart weighs in with some physical business in a high-tech shower that would have impressed Stan and Ollie.
AT ONE point, it looked like this year’s Oscars were shaping up to be a battle between two sapphic period dramas. In one corner, we had The Favourite, a bawdy comedy about Queen Anne’s relationship with Lady Sarah Churchill. In the other was tasteful but largely humourless film about early 20th-century French writer SidonieGabrielle Colette, starring Keira Knightley.
If I was a member of the Academy, I know which one I’d get into bed with.
Colette focuses on her 14-year marriage to Willy (Dominic West), a louche literary impresario who published all of her erotic novels in his own name.
As she becomes entrenched in the libertine culture of Belle Epoque Paris, she embarks on a fling with American heiress Flossy (Caroline Boulton with a terrible Southern accent), before falling for Missy (Denise Gough), a butch aristocrat.
West makes a great cad, there are sharp lines and the sets and costumes are sumptuous. But it’s also a bit of a slog. By the second hour, it feels like nuance has been sacrificed to the demands of a modern feminist plot. In the end, a film about a gay icon is played disappointingly straight.
REEL STARS: John C Reilly and Steve Coogan bring Laurel and Hardy back to life
LIBERTINE: Keira Knightley plays Colette