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A touching, warm-hearted tribute to a business partnership that became an enduring friendship and a Hollywood legend, “Stan & Ollie” works as an inside-showbiz story about comedy duo Laurel and Hardy and as a portrait of two men and the lives they lived together on and off-screen.

Steve Coogan is Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly dons heavy makeup to become Oliver Hardy, and both turn in affecting work in this endearing comic-drama. Coogan dials into Laurel’s subtle mannerisms, and Reilly plays up the sweet-hearted nature of Hardy, and the beady eyes that are windows into his gentle soul. The script by Jeff Pope deftly gives the two actors room to stage some of Laurel and Hardy’s best bits, whether they’re performing them for audiences or living their material day-to-day.

The film opens in 1937 when Laurel and Hardy are at the top of Hollywood, their films adored by millions, but as business matters begin to interfere in their relationship. Laurel’s contract is almost up and he wants Hardy to hold out and renegotiate with him, and Hardy is either too naïve or too selfish to take his concerns seriously.

Hard cut to 1953, when Laurel and Hardy have bottomed out of Hollywood — Abbott and Costello have taken their place — and the pair is on the road in Europe, performing on tour to small audiences in the hopes of raising money for a comeback film based on Robin Hood. The nature of their friendship is tested on the road, and they’re forced to confront truths about their personal and professional dealings.

Director Jon S. Baird is clearly a fan of Laurel and Hardy, but not so much that he’s afraid to probe their relationship with one another. And whether or not you’re a Laurel and Hardy fan is immaterial: “Stan & Ollie” has plenty to say about the things that bring us together, and the things that keep us together.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

‘Stan & Ollie’

GRADE: B+

Rated PG for some language and for smoking

Running time: 97 minutes

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