Steve Coogan stars as Stan Laurel alongside John C. Riley as Oliver ‘Ollie’ Hardy in Stan & Ollie. Photo submitted.

Williams Lake Film Club: Biopic drama Stan & Ollie comes to Williams Lake

Swing by the Gibraltar Room this Friday for a fresh new film club offering

The Williams Lake Film Club is delighted to bring the biographical dramedy Stan & Ollie to the Gibraltar room on Friday, March 8th.

Directed by Jon S. Baird, the film focuses on the careers of the iconic and beloved comedy team, Laurel and Hardy. Due to dwindling resources, the pair must embark on a demanding variety hall tour of Britain and Ireland in 1953 when they are in their mid-sixties. Their work is considered groundbreaking in the evolution of comedy as an art form, so this is a must-see for fans of Laurel and Hardy.

It should also appeal to anyone interested in comedy or the way comedy is made, including a new generation of enthusiasts who may not yet be familiar with the legendary duo. It will also appeal to anyone interested in a character study of a close friendship and partnership.

Steve Coogan stars as Stan Laurel (the skinny one) and John C. Reilly plays Oliver Hardy (the larger of the two) and they were the director’s first picks for casting. Although Laurel and Hardy enjoyed worldwide success after initially being cast together by producer Hal Roach in the 1920s, the film focuses on their later years, when due to tough financial circumstances, and dwindling box office earnings, the pair must travel across the UK to revive interest in their comedy.

This is a rich period in their lives to focus on. As John C. Reilly observes, “during the tour is when they really came to see each other as people, as opposed to partners or members of an act. I thought that was really, really poignant. It was a stroke of genius for Jeff Pope, the writer, to choose to set the movie during that tour, as opposed to a traditional biopic” (Collider 2018).

Both Coogan and Reilly were initially reticent to sign on to the film, fearing they might disappoint serious Laurel & Hardy buffs. Reilly explains his trepidation about taking on the role of Ollie: “to me, they’re in a perfect place already. Their films are brilliant, I love them, and they changed my life. I didn’t want to add anything to the conversation that would distract from that, so I had to be convinced, early on, from Jon Baird, the director, that we were really going to do it well…” (Collider 2018).

Both actors were deeply devoted to getting the characterizations absolutely bang on. To get the physicality down perfectly – including all the dancing, movements and gestures – Coogan and Reilly worked with a professional clown coach, Toby Sedgwick for nearly a month before filming started, which is an unusually large amount of rehearsal time for a feature film.

While Laurel and Hardy may have made their performances seem effortlessly hilarious, they had to put in a lot of rehearsal hours to pull it off seamlessly as they did. As Coogan notes, “the way we rehearsed the dances, in some ways, was exactly the way Laurel and Hardy would have rehearsed the sketches and the dance routines” (Daily Actor 2019).

To get ready for the part, Coogan was given a false chin, gums on the lower teeth that pushed his jaw out, and two false tips on to his ears. Reilly was given prosthetics from the nose down, and had to wear a fat suit – it took three hours of make-up each day to transform him into Ollie. The transformation was truly stunning.

Jon S. Baird describes the first time Coogan and Reilly were introduced to the other cast and crew with their makeup on: “literally there were people whose mouths were open and they were gasping. It was like two ghosts walking through the door. It was like bringing these two people back from the dead. It was an incredible moment. There were some members of the crew that were massive Laurel and Hardy fans, who actually started crying. It was an incredible experience. (Slashfilm 2018).

Another appealing aspect of the film is that Laurel and Hardy’s spouses (played by Nina Arianda and Shirley Hendeson) accompany them on the tour, and their roles are fully developed – not just the typical boring two-dimensional loyal wife parts.

The film is funny, dramatic, and uplifting. Given the current day in age, when much of the focus of the world seems to be on divisive politics, it’s a real pleasure to watch. As Reilly explains, “I think a lot of people who have seen it, from really cynical friends of mine, to people who are just true lovers of Laurel and Hardy, they all say, “Man, this movie is what I needed to see right now. There’s so much bad news in the world, and so much division it’s so wonderful to see something about two guys embracing each other at the end of their lives, and understanding the value of another human being (Screenrant 2018). So if you’d like to see something hilarious, and that highlights the good in humanity, this is one film to check out.”

As film critic Williams Bibbiani writes, “every character is wonderfully realized, every performance is spectacular. You’ll laugh all the way through, you’ll cry by the end, and you’ll see the brilliance of Laurel and Hardy come back to life via the very same cinematic magic that made them legends in the first place” (IGN 2018).

Tickets are $12 and can be purchased at the Open Book or at the door. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., with the film beginning at 7 pm.

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