A Charming Tribute;
Funny With Tinge Of Sadness;
Knowing only just enough about Laurel and Hardy going into this, I was unsure how much I would get out of it, as I am no guru of that era of entertainment. However, I’m glad to say that a wealth of prerequisite knowledge isn’t necessary to fall for this wonderful little picture about two friends who conquered comedy and had quite a run at the top.
Like the river of creativity that must have run through their partnership, this film crackles and sparks with energy at all times, even when the scene is somber and quiet. The writing is whipping and witty, as the dual protagonists riff off each other, their environment and their wives. Jeff Pope’s script never feels old fashioned despite the era, which helps the film gain momentum and remain accessible for all types of audiences. And, somehow, despite it being so old, their act is still funny and charming, coming off (to this amateur) as a mashup of Vaudeville’s best. There was something for everyone in their act, and the movie is just as inclusive.
Coogan (as Laurel) and Reilly (as Hardy) are equally fantastic, pouring themselves into not only their portrayals for the screen, but also the chemistry that made the whole thing work for live crowds all over the world. They are magical together, and display the depth needed to carry the third act without ever sacrificing their humor. Laughter truly is the best medicine, and this duo seems to understand that as well as the pair they are imitating.
Not to be outdone, the script gives the wives of these legends some great scenery to chew, and Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda don’t waste a second of opportunity, sniping at each other as often as possible and with the subtlety of a monster truck rally. They are damn near as entertaining to watch as the titular characters, and it is refreshing to see wives like this not written off as meaningless side roles.
It is a love letter to a bygone era and its stars, but thankfully never takes up a soapbox position on the new scourge of the times: television. It would have been an easy route to take, and the film is strengthened by its lack of demonization during the lull of Laurel and Hardy’s twilight years, choosing to always focus on the friendship. It also helps that we are never bogged down with exposition and backstory, instead following the boys, for most of the runtime, on their tour of the United Kingdom in 1957. My only gripe was wishing a few minutes had been spent exploring what happened after their final, sold-out show in London. I understand ending on the note that it did, which probably served the film better overall, but an additional scene or two could have been great, from an emotional impact standpoint. But that is one extremely minor complaint in a great 100 minutes of fun, love, dedication, creativity, passion and, of course, laughter.