Stan and Ollie. We think we know them. More than that, we think we own them. And maybe, judging by the subtlety on offer in this marvellous movie, that’s just the way our heroes would have wanted it.
It is 1957. Past the heady glory days, our almost irrelevant former stars are press-ganged by debt into a tour of England backwaters. Almost empty theatres and run-down cinemas are the stages now provided for a re-run of some of their finest past moments, lifted directly from the triumphs of the thirties. Two men, accompanied by two wives. A trail of debt and ex-spouses trailing behind them. Stan an almost alcoholic. Ollie soldiering on despite a weak heart and a gambling addiction.
Tragedy looms on the horizon of their lives. But it is an end, or a road to an end that they share together. So has it always been. So could it only ever be. There are hints of simmering discord beneath the surface of their partnership.
A never before sense of betrayal rises up and has to be confronted. But, in the end, instead of driving these old friends apart, it confirms the cement that binds them ultimately together. Through all the adversity, they endure. They are as one, in front of the camera and removed from it.
It is this overwhelming sense of two good but flawed men that gives the film its strength. Steve Cogan is superb as Stan, endlessly trying to keep the creaking show on the road. John C. Reilly shines equally as Ollie, a big man bravely insisting that the show must go on. And up to the very end, it does.
Poignant, funny, heartbreaking. The best bio- pic I have so far seen, and will probably ever see. Something truly special would have to come along to change my mind. In the end, Stan and Ollie is the film it probably aspired to be. Touching and glorious as a tribute to the ebbing of careers, at the same time an honest and unflinching portrait of two genuine friends who could not have survived without each other. Watching this movie was a pleasure, bittersweet and true.
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