STAN & OLLIE: Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) were the true originators of the “buddy movie” where the men were both heterosexual yet always expressed their truest feelings to each other. Their on-screen relationship had a positively sweet and loving dimension to it (See CLOSING CREDITS.). They often wound up in bed together in several of their comedy shorts and they do the same in a poignant scene in this film when a bloated, sickly Hardy informs his partner that he’s retiring. But like most show business friendships and partnerships, theirs was a complicated one which is deftly explored by screenwriter Jeff Pope that finds the duo two decades after their zenith in Hollywood attempting something of a comeback/nostalgia tour in second-rate, half-filled variety halls in England circa 1953 in order to finance a Robin Hood movie. Coogan (TROPIC THUNDER) and Reilly (CHICAGO) masterfully disappear into their roles without ever resorting to imitation in their depiction of performers who live to perform even when they’ve become something of a shell of their former more famous selves. They get more than adequate backing from their wives (Nina Arianda, Shirley Henderson) whose comically and occasionally prickly interplay brings back fond memories of Raisa Gorbachev and Nancy Reagan. One of the storylines gently explores the frustrations and struggles in the creative process as well as the fickle nature of fame plus the desire to grasp hold of it for one last time. But the real heart of this movie is about a lifelong friendship that would personally and professionally link two artists who looked at the world with a sort of innocent whimsy and whose collaborative skills inextricably kept them together to the audiences who enjoyed their unique artistry. CRITIC’S GRADE: B+

CLOSING CREDITS: Much of the appeal of “buddy films” lies in their escape from gender role-playing between men. In much of these movies, like the ones with Laurel and Hardy, real emotions occur between men while the presence of females are usually just tolerated or even considered to be obstacles. Think Katherine Ross in BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969). There’s a scene in a Laurel and Hardy film called THEIR FIRST MISTAKE (1932) where the two friends discuss a situation in which the latter’s wife feels that he’s seeing way too much of the former and not enough of her. Laurel’s solution to this conflict is for Hardy to get a baby in his house. When Hardy asks how this is relevant, Stan’s response is, “Well if you had a baby, it would keep your wife’s mind occupied. You could go out nights with me and she’d never think anything about it”.