In 1953, the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy set out on their final tour, a series of theatre performances in the U.K., a decade or two removed from the height of their popularity. This is where we find ourselves in Stan & Ollie, and it’s certainly clear that this is their last hurrah, due to some poor career decisions, the culture moving on without them, and Oliver Hardy’s declining health.
Now, a lot of early 20th-century comedy feels pretty dated. But it’s been a while since I’ve watched any Laurel and Hardy, so I was pleased to see their act still really holds up. Steve Coogan, as Stan Laurel, and John C. Reilly, as Hardy, have the pair’s comedic timing down excellently, and anyone in the theater with me could definitely hear my laughter ringing throughout the film, as the men ran through their sketches. What’s more, they often seemed to be running routines even when they were off stage—which, I realize, is partly due to the screenwriting, but must also be because they knew each other so well. Their combined beats and rhythms were the same whether they were performing or not.
Ultimately, though, this is a movie about coming to terms with endings. Neither man really wants all of this to be over: they’ve been together so long, and are so enmeshed in each other’s lives, it seems hard for them to imagine what the world would be like without the other. This leads to plenty of difficulty for them, with tantrums and the reopening of old wounds, as they struggle against the inevitable. But, then, they really have no choice: time devours us all, and chapters in our lives—even very long chapters—must come to an end. What we see is two men who truly love each other finding that their time is winding down. It hurts, but Stan & Ollie is also a true celebration of their lives and legitimate genius. We should all be so lucky as to find someone who gets us the way Laurel and Hardy got each other. Even if just for a time.