Express reviews: The Lego Movie 2: Second Part; Mary, Queen of Scots; Escape Room; Glass

And now for something only moderately different. I’ve spent the last few days catching up on a few films. As I haven’t had the time to give them full reviews, these are instead going to be done at a compressed length.

The Lego Movie 2: Second Part
The Lego Movie ended with the city being invaded by aliens from the Planet Duplo, which is based off the larger blocks of Lego that are aimed at younger kids. Did the filmmakers already have in mind to make this film? Either way, they follow through on it. The Lego Movie 2: Second Part takes place after years of fighting the Duplo aliens. Emmett (Chris Pratt) sees his friends (Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett and others) get kidnapped by the aliens and sets out to get them back. Tiffany Haddish is the main new addition to the cast.

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller return to write the script, with Mike Mitchell directing. It was always going to be a Herculean task for them to equal its fresh, funny and inventive predecessor. Without dwelling on whether it really hits that level, rest assured, Second Part is a delightful film for all the family. Like its predecessor and other great animated films, it has the ability to appeal to both children and adults. For children, its action-packed, fast-moving and colourful, with slapstick comedy. And this time round, there’s some musical scenes.

For adults, there are pop culture references and a satire on how we assume that ‘dark, gritty, moody’ is what we have to be to be mature. The unsubtle visuals conceal that there’s a surprising amount of depth gone into this, including a sympathetic character that is led to villainous things. As with before, the story is paralleled by scenes of a family playing with Lego in the real world, which serve to give it a bit of extra depth.

4Stars

Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots reigned from the age of 0 until 24. Most of that was spent in France while regents ruled Scotland. The new Mary, Queen of Scots film (starring Saoirse Ronan) is mostly covering the six years she spent trying to rule, with the misfortune of being a Catholic queen in a nation that had just turned Protestant. After that she spent 18 years imprisoned in England by Queen Elizabeth (Margot Robbie). If you don’t know what happens next, the opening scene will tell you.

Josie Rourke debuts as a film director; until now she has been an acclaimed theatre director. Beau Willimon wrote the script; given his background in House of Cards, it’s not hard to see why he was chosen. You could not have asked for a better cast, with Ronan and Robbie in the most important roles. Some of the best moments are when they play off each other, in scenes where they are in different countries and the camera cuts between them as they respond to each other. There’s also some great on-location shots and folk music that forgoes bagpipes in favour of the folk instruments more likely played around the time.

How much you enjoy it depends on whether you’re expecting a history lesson or entertainment, and I always prefer the latter. As a political thriller, it’s short of tension as to whether she’ll hold on in the turbulent situation. As a history lesson, it works better, though it is making wild and probably fanciful speculation about the characters’ sex lives. Some historical inaccuracies are actually good ideas; the real Mary may not have met Queen Elizabeth, but it does make for a great scene.

3Stars

Escape Room
A tamer version of Saw, Escape Room is about six people who enter a challenge in which they have to solve puzzles to escape from a series of rooms. Those things exist in real life, though probably aren’t as dangerous as what we see here. The group are played by Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Deborah Ann Woll, Tyler Labine, Jay Ellis and Nik Dodani. Adam Robitel is the director, while Bragi F. Schut and Maria Melnik write the script.

I was really impressed with the set designs of the rooms. And some of the challenge scenes work well on their own. The is genuine tension. It’s at its best when you can somewhat follow what the characters are trying to work out, so you can say “I should have realised that!” instead of it being something that you couldn’t have possibly known. The combined plot of these scenes becomes quite predictable, because it’s obvious that characters are going to start being killed off one by one.

The performances, like the film as a whole, are a mixed bag. Russell is great as the most fleshed-out character, though some of the others are very one-note or inconsistent. For the most part, there’s more good than bad — until the ending. It starts off being unremarkable but at least getting things resolved… and then veers off into something messy. It feels as though the studio butted in and insisted that there had to be a set-up for a sequel.

2Stars

Glass
M. Night Shyamalan directs a sequel to his films Unbreakable and Split. Unbreakable introduced Mr Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), a disabled man with a lethal obsession with comic books, and David Dunn (Bruce Willis), a security guard who discovered he had superpowers. Split introduced Kevin “The Horde” (James McAvoy), a kidnapper with 24 personalities and superpowers, and had a twist that linked the two films. Glass begins with a kidnapping but is mostly set at a psychiatric hospital, where a psychologist (Sarah Paulson) is trying to convince them that superheroes are not real.

If you haven’t seen the previous two, prepare to be bewildered. Shyamalan has been building a completely original approach to superhero stories, which remains welcome at a time when the movie market is saturated with them. In his writing, he brings originality and is not afraid to make decisions that may alienate viewers wanting it to end a certain way. However, he often falters at writing dialogue, and some of the plot devices (and ways characters react to things) are very strange. The ending explains only part of the weirdness.

To the visual side he brings his signature touches (characters talking to the camera, Philadelphia) and downplays action in favour of creating a psychological atmosphere with the characters. James McAvoy is the standout actor, showcasing some astonishing versatility. The portrayal of his character’s mental illness is sensationalist, and it can be unintentionally funny if you’re not gripped by the rest of the film. I found that Glass is too overstuffed with ideas to have something that could make me put up with the bizarre, flimsy plot details.

2Stars

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Alita: Battle Angel

The marketing might imply that James Cameron is the director of Alita: Battle Angel. He’s credited as a producer and co-wrote the script with Laeta Kalogridis. It’s fair to say he has been heavily involved in the making of this, but the actual director is Robert Rodriguez. Cameron has had the rights to do an adaptation of the acclaimed manga comic Battle Angel Alita, which was published in the 1990s and adapted into anime.

Hollywood has not had much luck adapting anime on the big screen. Some stabs at it like Dragonball Evolution just outright didn’t work. A more recent issue is backlash about ‘whitewashing’, whether rightly or wrongly. It seems to have hampered the 2017 adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, which I actually liked.

The film is set a few centuries into the future, after an apocalyptic war. Civilisation seems to live either in the city of Zalem in the sky, or Iron City down beneath. The two societies are completely separated, with the film set only in Iron City. It’s a land of poverty, grime and anarchy. The closest we have to law-keepers are bounty hunters who track down criminals for reward money. The proles, meanwhile, take time out from their difficult lives by watching a sport called ‘motorball’.

Many humans have replaced body parts with robotics, sometimes just an arm, sometimes the entire body except the brain. In the opening scene, Dr Ido discovers the damaged remains of a cyborg of the latter type on a scrap heap of objects that dropped from Zalem. He takes her home and successfully heals/repairs her. She comes round — but has no memory of her past life or how she got there. When she asks what her name is, Dr Ido names her ‘Alita’ without hesitation.

Alita is introduced to the world of Iron City and tries to discover who she really is. She befriends a local boy called Hugo (Keean Johnson) who might be able to get her started. Among the other characters we have a villain who begins hunting for her (Jackie Earle Haley), another who corrupts the motorball games (Mahershala Ali) and one of Dr Ido’s old acquaintances (Jennifer Connolly). It says something about how ambitious this movie is that it takes three paragraphs to explain what it’s about!

What can be admired about this film is the world it creates, and how this world has no easy answers. There are characters who are quite sympathetic who get involved in crime and worse. Many of the bounty hunters seem to be interested only in money. We’re told it’s a fight for survival, and it does feel that way.

Rosa Salazar is playing a character with an interesting balance. She seems young and innocent. Yet she isn’t really, it’s just that everything that was not young and innocent about her has been covered up. She’s drawn to being a fighter in the same way that pre-teen kids might be drawn to staying a night away from their parents. Whereas teenagers are discovering what sort of person they will be in the future, Alita is discovering what sort of person she was in the past.

One of the things that surprised me on the trailer was that the character was a full CGI creation with deliberately large eyes. Normally, something that looks almost but not quite human can become off-putting in a way that cartoons are not, an effect known as ‘uncanny valley’. I was surprised both then and now that it wasn’t that disquieting, perhaps because the character wasn’t meant to be human anyway. It’s also a nod to the visual style of manga and anime.

There are some admirable moments in the other performances. Wouldn’t you just love to have Christoph Waltz as your doctor? Yet at an early stage, his mannerisms and protective instincts hint early on that there’s more to him than that. There are highlights among the other characters, who are straining to be heard in a very overstuffed plot. The romantic subplot is okay, though there are some really odd, over-the-top moments like when Alita offers him something.

Rodriguez has done a fantastic job with the action scenes. They’re fast paced, exciting and exploring the possibilities that come with its world. For fans who have been waiting for this adaptation, it should reward them with some great moments of the sort that become images that you don’t forget. The motorball game in particular has to be singled out for praise, and how it isn’t just a closed game.

Alita: Battle Angel feels like it’s trying to start a franchise. I have seen this sink many films in recent years. Did it bother me this time? Not really, though it might still bother some. The story never feels like it is being halted in order to give world-building exposition, and there is a conclusion. That said, this film might feel like a bit of a dead end if it is not followed by a sequel.

Like Alita herself, the film isn’t quite sure of what it is going to grow into or where it’s headed. While a threat is established early on, it takes a while before we start seeing it as a threat to Alita and those around her; she’s still pretty safe at Dr Ido’s house. That said, the ambitious world-building, action scenes, visuals and some strong performances help lift this movie above being something that simply does its job into something that deserves sheer respect for its ambition and achievements.

4Stars

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

How many sequels does it take before the studio stops numbering them? In the case of the How to Train Your Dragon franchise, it’s happened on the third instalment. Dean DeBlois returns to write and direct with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, which turns the franchise into a trilogy and brings it to a fitting conclusion.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is often compared to The Empire Strikes Back in how it was a sequel that equalled if not outdid the original, expanding its world and introducing a darker tone. If so, then it is fitting that The Hidden World can be compared more loosely to Return of the Jedi. It’s a welcome, imperfect end to the trilogy which is particularly fantastic and affecting in how it ends.

We return to the Viking-style fantasy world in which Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is now the chieftain of the village of Berk. We open with a scene in which he, Astrid (America Ferrara) and their gang of dragon-riding warriors rescuing a group of dragons from captivity on a ship. It turns out that Berk is now awash with rescued dragons. Some of the villagers start pointing out how difficult this is becoming for them. So Hiccup becomes interested in a legend of a world beyond the waterfall at the end of sea, where dragons can live in peace.

Meanwhile, there’s a new dragon hunter in town named Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham). When he starts trying to capture the dragons of Berk, Hiccup decides that the only way they can protect the dragons is to go out and seek this legendary dragon world. The Hidden World concludes a trilogy of How to Train Your Dragon films that was inspired by the children’s book series written by Cressida Cowell, though this story doesn’t come from the books.

The Hidden World can’t be discussed without considering how it fits into the wider franchise. For example, previous films built Hiccup up from a nervous teenager to a leader. Here, there’s a balance in that Hiccup has some confidence he has gained in the past two films but still needs more to be the ideal leader. It’s a welcome balance that ensures his earlier character development hasn’t been wasted, while there is still room for him to grow further. A similar thing could be said of how Hiccup and Astrid’s relationship develops, in ways that feel gradual and feels natural. Not only do those scenes work in this movie, but those scenes in its predecessors may well be improved by this one.

It’s not just humans that are in love. So is Hiccup’s dragon Toothless. There’s some great visual storytelling when he meets a female dragon and tries his hardest to court her. Hiccup has to face the prospect that he might have to say farewell to his beloved dragon, and ask himself if this is best. Close-ups of Toothless and some subtle facial expressions suggest he is similarly torn by the question. His romance develop quicker than the humans’ (which makes sense) while also having its share of mistakes and awkwardness.

This series has always been blessed with beautiful animation. And that continues with The Hidden World, especially its backdrops, clouds and sunsets. Once again, we also have the dragons with a huge variety of designs. Later on, we enter a special setting which is a particularly spectacular creation.

It is also great to see, or should I say hear, the contributions of John Powell. The music is orchestral but also includes elements of Irish (sometimes Scottish) folk music, perhaps because it evokes a world of the past that is a little different while still somewhat familiar. The triumphant theme of ‘Test Flight’, as it was known on the original’s soundtrack, reappears again but it is wisely being saved for some special moments.

How to Train Your Dragon is best if it isn’t viewed as an allegory for the real world. Why? Because if we should mix with other humans and leave wild animals in peace, which approach is right for the dragons? Should the dragons be treated as people or wild animals? I think the film is wants us to view them as animals, and is asking us to imagine animals that are a little more like us that we realise.

It’s an interesting thing to think about, as the franchise has worked by creating a fantasy setting and asked moral questions that are relevant to that setting. We don’t have to assume it can be applied directly to real life. Despite this question, however, The Hidden World is very black-and-white, with an obviously evil villain who wants to kill dragons because…they’re dragons. Given that it’s aimed at families with children, it can be okay to keep it simple as to who is good and bad. However, it is missing a bit of depth that the previous two films had, because they could show how sympathetic characters could do the wrong thing.

Most of the other supporting characters are mostly there to deliver a running joke each, some of which I did grow fed up with. I did however like how the character of Gobber (Craig Ferguson) acts as a link between Hiccup and Berk’s past. The other link is a series of flashbacks that show how Hiccup became the character he is, with Gerard Butler also in the returning voice cast.

As I said earlier, the true highlight is how it ends. For anyone who has followed this franchise and enjoyed watching its humans and dragons bond across these films, it becomes very touching. The Hidden World brings this excellent franchise to a worthy end. Until they try to reboot it in three years’ time. Because that’s how the industry seems to work these days.

4Stars

Green Book

I can pinpoint where I was won over by Green Book. There’s a scene after about 40 minutes when our two main characters, played by Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen, have crossed into Kentucky. Mortensen’s character inevitably buys a bucketful of fried chicken and starts scoffing it. He is then surprised that the black man he’s travelling with not only isn’t into fried chicken, but has never actually tried it. Cue a scene of a driver dangling a piece of fried chicken over at his passenger, trying to get him to eat it. The delightfully silly scene highlights some of the best things about Green Book: the interplay and friendship between its two main characters, its comedy and how it subverts stereotypes.

Ali plays Don Shirley, a jazz and classical pianist. When we are first introduced to him, he sits down in his lavish New York apartment like a king on a throne. Almost everything about him is at odds with how white people expected African-Americans to be, including his wealth, accent, mannerisms and taste. The story here is about a tour he took in 1962 with his jazz trio, which took him into the Deep South.

Mortensen plays Tony Vallelonga, who was nicknamed Tony Lip. He’s an Italian-American bouncer who is out of work for a few months. He then gets a job offer from Don to be his driver on the tour. He is in many ways Don’s opposite: a working-class immigrant who will be leaving a family and many friends behind. He has his own prejudices. You will not be surprised to see that he has different ideas in how to deal with conflict, insults and injustice. In the era of the Jim Crow laws, we can be sure to expect some of these.

Green Book is indeed based off a true story. Nick Vallelonga, the real life son of Tony Vallelonga, played a key role in getting it retold on screen. He had known both men while they were still alive (both died in 2013) and also had the letters his father had written during the trip. Of course there are inaccuracies, but the film would be entertaining enough even if it was entirely fictional. It’s also important to notice that despite the setting, the focus is on a friendship between two men, rather than the politics and society that was going on at the time. I say this because having the wrong expectations can lead to disappointment.

Nick Vallelonga was ultimately credited as one of the writers, alongside Brian Hayes Currie, and the director Peter Farrelly. Farrelly’s background has been in directing comedy films, often in tandem with his brother, with the best known being There’s Something About Mary. This is the first time he’s directed something more serious, though he does bring some strong comedy direction to the scenes when Mortensen and Ali are together. This allows moments that may not have been inherently funny in the script to be entertaining; the laughs based around the kind of conversations and fun you would have with a friend.

Mortensen and Ali are both ideally cast in their roles. We start with following Mortensen for a good reason: it sets up his character as someone with a short temper and some slovenly habits, and not the best suited to the job with Don, while also keeping him as a human being we are interested in following. Ali gives his character a manner of someone who’s noble and confident, though also hiding things on the inside. Even the scenes where the sentiment and moral messaging is overdone in the script still work on camera, thanks to the two strong performances at its heart.

The film is a little slow to get going, with the two main characters not getting on the road for over half an hour. Even when they are on the road, they start touring the Mid West before they venture into the South. It is understandable that the filmmakers wanted to show Tony as someone who was more than a ‘tough guy’, to show what he was leaving behind, as well as avoid rushing his decision to work for Don. I still think that the first act could have been shorter by about 10 minutes.

Other than that, I loved Green Book. I loved it because of the two characters that were interesting and fleshed out, and the variously funny and touching moments of them together. I loved it because it was not afraid to touch on difficult issues, and could do so respectfully. Green Book is a warm and very welcome tale about a human friendship quietly cutting through the prejudices of the society around it.
4Stars

Second Act

You might be wondering why I bothered to review Second Act if it clearly wasn’t made for me. My answer is that I believe that any good film can be appreciated by a universal audience, so as long as they can approach it with an open mind. Need proof? Read on, although I can think of better examples.

Maya (Jennifer Lopez) is an assistant manager of a supermarket in New York City. She’s good at her job, but is passed over for a promotion because she doesn’t have a university degree. Then she gets an offer for job in a cosmetics giant. The boss (Treat Williams) has looked up her social media profiles and thinks she has degree from Harvard university, besides many other tall tales about her. It turns out that the trickery has been cooked up by her best friend’s son. Of course, she decides to go along with it.

So she gets involved in a race against time to develop a new product. That puts her in competition with the boss’s daughter (Vanessa Hudgens), though she’s far more reasonable than those working for her. Inevitably, someone is going to suspect that her credentials are fake. But there are some surprises in store, including a coincidence worthy of a Charles Dickens novel.

I’ve seen a few of the comedy films director Peter Segal has made before and liked them, while Grudge Match was not terrible. I suspect he’s competent at executing films that can only be as good as their script. Various jokes are delivered with good comic tiring, meaning that even the less inventive ones (such as a foul-mouthed kid) still work. On the visual side of things, the most visible contribution was Patricia Field’s wardrobe.

The script that was written by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas and Justin Zackham. On the plus side, it’s quite funny. It also keeps the characters likeable. It’s surprising how you can still be sympathetic to a character who makes increasingly pathetic attempts to keep the lies about herself going. Even if not as dramatic as this, many of us have projected brilliant, fake illusions of ourselves. Social media has become notorious for it; it happens in other contexts as well. That’s a welcome theme to explore.

Watching Second Act, you get the impression watching it that in the process of deciding what this film was going to do, they were keeping their options open. If the ensemble of Maya’s friends, led by Leah Remini didn’t work out, they were on standby to shift towards Maya’s two colleagues (Charlyne Yi and Alan Aisenberg). The downside is that there’s not much to impress you if you’re not that amused, or not in the target audience. It’s hard to get past how ridiculous the coincidence is, and the rest is mostly business meetings.

Jennifer Lopez is well-cast and successful to the central role. Remini, her real life friend, manages to upstage her in many scenes when they are together. There are other highlights among the actors, including Annaleigh Ashford and the duo of Yi and Aisenberg. Overall, a film that could have been a disappointment is kept afloat by the cast and their performances, especially the comic ones.

3Stars

The Favourite

I was aware before watching it that The Favourite has been a huge critical success, with many including it on their lists of the best films of last year (it was released in late 2018 in the US, but this month in the UK). Hearing about this strong acclaim before you see a film makes it very hard to approach it with an open mind. On the one hand, it can cause you to end up looking at it uncritically. At other times, it can make the film look underwhelming compared to your expectations.

Well, yes, I did enjoy it. There was a lot that left me outright impressed. That said, I couldn’t help feeling as though it wasn’t impressing me as much as the critics had made out that it would, even though I didn’t think it had any real problems. Why? Expectations. As I write this now I find my admiration of the film increasing.

The Favourite is about Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman), who started her reign as a shared queen for England and Scotland and ended it as the first monarch of the United Kingdom. It’s about her friendship with Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz), the wife of the Duke of Marlborough, the famous general and an ancestor to Winston Churchill. Being Anne’s closest friend gives her a powerful influence over how the country was run, and the war it is currently fighting.

Meanwhile, Abigail (Emma Stone) is a young woman from a noble family that has fallen in status. She comes to work at the palace as a servant, arriving in the most humiliating way possible. Before she knows it, she finds herself competing with Sarah for the affections of Anne, whose health is now failing. Who’s going to win? It could well affect the country’s politics and a war, though these things are secondary.

The screenplay was written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara. Davis first had the idea in 1998, and her early drafts lay low for years. When it was rediscovered, Yorgos Lanthimos was hired to direct the film and McNamara was brought on to make changes to the script.

As you would expect, there are some inaccuracies. You don’t have to dig far to find those, or to read about things that historians can only speculate about. Lanthimos made this film to entertain us, not to argue a historian’s view on what was accurate. Would the real story need a ’15’ certificate from the BBFC (due to “very strong language, strong sex”) to be told? I don’t know. And I did not care.

Even though I had seen the BBFC rating, I was still surprised by how it portrayed the 18th century court. This is no conventional period drama, even though it’s also very good at doing what a film would need to do to succeed as one. Huge compliments indeed to those who helped create the setting, particularly set designer Fiona Crombie and costume designer Sandy Powell.

It is, however, also a film divided into chapters that include titles like “This Mud Stinks” and “I Dreamt I Stabbed You in the Eye”. It includes breakdancing, a duck race and rabbits crawling around in the Queen’s chamber. There are lines of aristocratic speech mixed in with swear words. It has to be seen to be believed. If a viewer is expecting a conventional period drama, I could understand why they would be baffled at best by what they are seeing. Actually, anyone is going to be baffled by it.

There were times when I felt alienated by the relentlessly mixed tone and elements that seemed out of place. That said, when you consider how much films have been limited by genre boundaries for decades, a film like The Favourite that messes with them can feel like something special. A director like Yorgos Lanthimos has to be congratulated for the risks he takes, for being unwilling to play by the rules. He also succeeds at the underestimated art of directing comedy. The deadpan humour does give a reason to stay on board even if nothing else works.

Emma Stone’s character is the one we follow in order to be introduced to the strange, unpredictable world of Queen Anne’s court. She puts on a fantastic performance as a character that we can relate to, even as the challenges and temptations that fill the palace turn her into something very different. She manages this despite also faking a convincing English accent and wearing uncomfortable corsets. Both of those would have taken far more effort than you may realise.

Rachel Weisz is equally great at playing a character who is very different, in a way that palace etiquette is supposed to hide but can’t. A lesser film might have made her only a villain. What’s really interesting in The Favourite is that all the main characters are sympathetic and have some admirable qualities. In Sarah Churchill’s case, her determination to get her way and skill at doing this that has been built up over some time.

The central cast is completed by Olivia Coleman, As Coleman is careful to show, what she wants most is to be loved by those around her. The power struggles that happen around her happen not because she designs them that way but because there is power to be struggled over. So that’s one of the biggest draws of this film: three strong, interesting women at the centre of it and how they react around each other. Seeing a friendship being challenged by political differences is also a theme that feels very relevant today.

Because of the issues with reviewing it that I mentioned at the start, this review will not have a star rating, though I did enjoy it.

Stan & Ollie

I write this review as someone who has never quite clicked with Laurel and Hardy and their style of relentless silly physical comedy. I know, they’ve made comedy classics. I respect them for what they achieved and whom they influenced. I’m not in much of a position to judge them because I haven’t seen that much of their work. Maybe it’s a taste I could acquire if I saw more of it. The biopic Stan & Ollie certainly made me interested.

This film is about the twilight years in the career of writer and comic actor Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and his acting partner Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly). We open with a clip of them in 1937 at the peak of their fame, walking into the studio to shoot their latest film and getting into an argument with the studio boss over their contracts. All done with some impressive long takes. We then skip forward 16 years. Because I went to this film having no idea of what was coming, that time skip was very surprising.

In 1953, the duo have arrived in England to do a theatre tour, and with the hope of making a new film. They find themselves in second-tier venues and can’t even sell half the seats. Financing the new film is going to be tricky. Hardy’s health is starting to decline. And old wounds from the past threaten to resurface. Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson star as the duo’s respective wives, Ida and Lucille.

This film is based off a memoir of the duo’s later theatre tours, with a script written by Jeff Pope. As is inevitable for a movie about real life events, there are a number of inaccuracies. In this case, they are mostly in place to allow for a smooth dramatic arc. What’s more important though is that the film feels ’emotionally accurate’. It is, in essence, giving us an idea of how it would have felt for these entertainers at the stage of the career.

We can thank the direction given by Jon S. Baird and the performances and the two leads, because the fact is does is the film’s greatest strength. Coogan and Reilly just are Laurel and Hardy. They look the same, nail their mannerisms and make some very faithful reconstructions some of their sketches. Besides imitating them, they succeed in portraying a believable picture of how these characters would act in the given situations. Coogan stands out when Laurel is seen walking out of a meeting, obviously crushed by disappointment and trying to hide it.

This is actually one of the main themes of the film. Several times, characters find themselves pretending things are fine when they are not. There are times when things seem to be going well on the outside for Laurel and Hardy and there is trouble inside that people can’t see. It’s also interesting to see how the two women have their own ways of confronting these issues. Arianda and Henderson are a double act that can sometimes rival the leads, something I was thinking even before it was acknowledged by the dialogue.

While there were some laughs during this film, it’s more of a dramedy than a comedy. There’s a mix of emotion, and it can be sad at times while never being far away from a helping of their comedy (sometimes in some surprising places). There is one key moment of drama that is spoilt by joking that happens straight afterwards. Otherwise, Baird keeps the tone balanced. Yes, there is disappointment and decline going on here, but it’s also about two men who find joy in what they do and the partnership they have with each other.

The final scene, though, was quite intense. It’s remarkable that a comedy performance felt so dramatic. There’s some outstanding camerawork that shows a character’s vulnerability with close-ups and uncomfortable movements, and I genuinely didn’t know how the scene was going to end. The way it does end does say a lot about the film and what its intentions are.

Stan & Ollie feels like a film that’s good enough to impress the unconverted. While the way the two leads are able to imitate the iconic duo is its most visible success, there is plenty more to like on a deeper level.
4Stars