Movie Review: 'Stan & Ollie' transcends simple backstage tale

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Sandy Kenyon reports on the film "Stan & Ollie." (Sony Pictures Classics via AP)

It's been more than half a century since the deaths of Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel, but as comedian Steve Coogan, who plays Stan in "Stan & Ollie" explained, "great comedy crosses the barriers of time."

More than 80 years have passed since the duo had a hit with "Babes in Toyland," but "Stan & Ollie" makes them relevant again by re-staging their classic routines and exploring their relationship on-stage and off.
"You loved 'Laurel and Hardy,' but you never loved me," Ollie said to Stan in this movie.

We see them in their prime, but most of the movie takes place later, in the 1950s in England, where Ollie, played by John C. Reilly, and Stan, given life by Coogan, are hoping for a comeback.

Anyone who has faced the ups and downs of life can relate to the indignities they encounter, amplified by the simple fact: The two men can't live comfortably with each other, nor can they live without each other, which becomes even more apparent when their wives join the pair in London.

It's interesting to watch the complex relationship between these guys. Stan is the more driven. Ollie's considerably less ambitious.

Even as they enjoy renewed success, old hurts resurface. Laurel confronts Hardy saying, "You betrayed me. You betrayed our friendship." His partner counters with, "We're friends because (producer) Hal Roach put us together, and the only reason we stayed together is that the audience wanted it."

In the end, the film manages to transcend its simple backstage tale to become a more universal story about the ties that can bind very different people together. This stands apart from the spectacles of the holiday season, and it's an alternative to worthy but grim films like "Vice" and "Destroyer."

By the time I'd finished seeing all of the other holiday pictures, I was ready for a feel-good movie. I was ready for "Stan & Ollie."

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