The plot of the film is set in 1953, and Stan (Steve Coogan) and Oli (John C. Reilly) are on a big tour of Great Britain. The golden age of their careers is far behind them, they are no longer kings of Hollywood comedy and they face an uncertain future. Although the tour started badly, their charm and quality manage to attract the audience, and the tour unexpectedly becomes a hit. However, success reawakens the spirits of the past, which in combination with Oli’s poor health are beginning to affect their partnership…
At first glance, Stan & Ollie is dealing with the famous tour, but he focuses much more on the details of the personal relationship of the comedian tandem, who are struggling with hard travels and attempts to make another film. They are aware that the days of glory are behind them and that they are in a situation to drag their heavy suitcases around the train stations, and they are partly to blame for their fate. Their relationship is fascinating, because they have performed together for over three decades and it is impossible that they were not friends with each other. In this film, we see how they rediscovered how much they essentially mean to each other.
I can’t say I know anything about these two other than basic information, but the introduction immediately intrigued me about them. It is a long scene shot without a cut when Stan and Ollie, at the peak of their popularity in 1937, go through the set of their latest project, while talking about quite ordinary things. Although they are very different, when the cameras are turned on, the two of them become a perfect harmony. Far from the script showing how all this was false, but it nicely represents how somewhat paradoxical their relationship is.
They are primarily business partners, connected for the purpose of fun and profit, and that is a fact that our heroes understand perfectly. So many working hours together over a number of years have had to lead to their relationship becoming something more, even though there is a silent conflict. The paradox is that they are best friends, but due to the nature of their partnership, they are not friends at all. The conflict started precisely because of the problems with the contracts (Stenov was disputable, while Oli was secured), and it is impossible not to transfer that to their friendship. Stan still has a problem with the fact that Oliver then made a film without him. On the other hand, Oliver does not pay attention to that, because it is all just business and fulfilling contractual obligations.
It is a real little miracle that the two of them managed to overcome all the conflicts and perform together for so long. Those conflicts, quarrels and some anger probably prevented the two of them from becoming sincere friends, but again, their relationship was somehow deeper than that. It didn’t matter so much to them whether they loved each other or just tolerated each other, because they had a common goal, and that was to make people laugh. They were both aware that this was the most important thing for the other and that it was the only thing they could do.
I liked that the author team, as well as the great tandem of the main actors, for whom I have only words of praise, successfully presented almost every scene as a sketch or part of a theater play. This is very nice to see in the scene of coming to the hotel or when they gather with their wives. Even when arguing in public, those gathered were not sure if it was part of a joke or not. Their philosophy became a constant and the very core of the whole film – they were Stan and Ollie partly because they had no other options, but partly because they liked it.