Film Review: STAN & OLLIE (USA/UK/Canada 2018) ***1/2

Stan & Ollie Poster

Laurel and Hardy, the world’s most famous comedy duo, attempt to reignite their film careers as they embark on what becomes their swan song – a grueling theatre tour of post-war Britain.


Jon S. Baird


Jeff Pope

STAN & OLLIE (or perhaps alternatively called LAUREL & HARDY) is a capsule biographical film of the two of the world’s most famous comedians and a tale of undying friendship.

The film is a biographical comedy-drama film directed by Jon S. Baird (from TV films and a few obscure theatrical films) from a screenplay by Jeff Pope.   The comedy is derived mainly from their acts on stage and Laurel’s s often smart mouths remarks while the drama is the story of their friendship and  Oliver’s illness). Based on the lives of the comedy double act Laurel and Hardy, the film stars Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. It already premiered in October 2018 at the BFI London Film Festival.  The film had a limited release in the United States on 28 December 2018 and will be released widely in the United Kingdom, the United States and in Canada in January 2019.

The film is boosted by two outstanding performances.  Besides being impressionists, the actors have to act as well.  Both Coogan and Reilly enable audiences to forget who they really are but for their characters of Stan & Ollie.  It is a tough decision to see who does the better job.  Being American, Reilly earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor (the Golden Globe is more American than foreign press) while Brit Coogan got snubbed.  The other way around for the BFTA (British awards) where Coogan was nominated for the Best Actor award with Reilly up for nothing.

The film is a U.K. co-prodcution as most of the film is set in the U.K.  The film begins with the duo embarking on a gruelling music hall tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland during 1953, and struggle to get another film made – their own (comedy) version of Robin Hood.  There is stop during the tour in Newcastle, though no-one during those segments speak with any Geordie accent.

The film’s narrative is choppy (the script picks up a few incidents in the duo’s lives that mostly affected their bonding) punctuated by the duo’s acts on stage with the dramatic set-pieces.  These acts are at least well performed.  The audience get to see their best acts performed by the impressionists, which shows both how good the acts are and how good the impressionists are as were the original performers.  

The film gets a bit sentimental at times, especially in the last scenes where Ollie is ill from poor health.  But the film’s two best segments are the dramatic confrontation where their friendship is tested and the comedy act where the two are supposed to meet by a change room but fail to see each other.

The shooting of the last performance on stage – the dance number routine by Stan & Ollie must also be commended.  The use of shadows, camera angles and editing to emphasize the talent of the duo is expertly done and watching the sequence is well worth the price of the admission ticket.

The film ends appropriately with the epilogue that Ollie’s health deteriorated after the tour, leading to his death in 1957 and Stan’s eight years later in 1965. Stan continued to write sketches for Laurel and Hardy in the last eight years of his life.


Film Review: NEVER STEADY, NEVER STILL (Canada 2017)

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Never Steady, Never Still Poster
A mother struggles to take control of her life in the face of advanced Parkinson’s disease, while her son battles his sexual and emotional identity amongst the violence of Alberta’s oil field work camps.


Kathleen Hepburn


NEVER STEADY, NEVER STILL are the words that often describe the film’s protagonist’s debilitating disease, a sort of advanced stage of Parkinson’s.  She, Judy has a loving but discontent son – each alienated from their world and struggling to manage in the face of grief, guilt and chronic disease.  At one point in the film Judy (Shirley Henderson) is admired by a friend who describes the situation as ‘How can you be so strong to put up with all this shit?”

NEVER STEADY, NEVER STILL is a family drama following a wife/mother, Judy, her loving husband (Nicholas Campbell) and son, Jamie.  Jamie gets a job reluctantly, in the oil fields, but is made fun off because of his scrawny figure.  Judy has to take her medication to keep her Parkinson’s under control, and even when she does, shakes uncontrollably.  Still, she is persistent, does her own shopping and dangerously drives her car.  The husband is not super healthy either and suffers a heart attack a third through the film.

Director Hepburn’s film is heartfelt.  It is really difficult to watch Judy suffer and the boy bullied.  One really feels for them and it will not be surprising that many of the suffering scenes will bring tears to many an audience’s eyes.

Hepburn is fond of keeping the audience on their toes with false alarms.  One scene has the son Jamie (Theodore Pellerin) doing cocaine in his room only to have a knocking at the door from his boss.  Jamie is just delivered a pay cheque.  More tense is the camera showing the car swerving side to side when Judy while driving, is suffering a Parkinson’s episode.  A cop stops her but sends her away with a caution.  And there are other false alarms.

Hepburn is also fond of using hand held camera instead of a mounting her camera on a tripod.  This can be seen in a few scenes that appear with a slightly moving frame.

The film has certain key incidents that affect the lives of both mother an son.  These appear at regular intervals and turns the film in another direction.  The result is good pacing and non-predictability of the story.

The film is also brilliantly shot, courtesy of D.P. Norm Li.  The water of the lake, the snow and ice and the flames of the oil fires all add to the excellent cinematography.

Hepburn also ensures her audience can effectively follow the story.  She gives a summary of the film at mid-point when Jamie explains over the telephone what has happened and how he feels at work, at home and with his mother.

The film is an expansion of Hepburn’s earlier short film of the same title, which had different actors.

NEVER STEADY NEVER STILL shows Hepburn an assured and apt writer and director.  At the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival, the film won three juried awards.  Currently the film has received eight Canadian Screen Award nominations at the 6th Canadian Screen Awards including Best Picture, Best Actress (Henderson), Best Screenplay (Hepburn), Best Cinematography (Norm Li), Best Art Direction/Production Design (Sophie Jarvis and Elizabeth Cairns), Best Sound (Matt Drake, Nate Evans and Christopher O’Brien), Best Editing (Simone Smith) and Best Original Score (Ben Fox).

(Interviews with director and editor are available online.)


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