A couple of nights ago I finally saw Jon S. Baird‘s Stan & Ollie (Sony Classics, 12.28). It’s an entirely congenial and bittersweet end-of-the-road saga. Basically about a couple of old world-famous pros dealing with their issues, not the least of which is facing the humiliation of no longer being the top-of-the-heap headliners that Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were in the late 1920s and all through the ’30s.

Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are absolutely brilliant in their respective titular roles. I enjoyed Coogan’s performance a tiny bit more than Reilly’s — he seems a bit more possessed — and I rather preferred the character of the focused and screwed-down Stan more than Oliver, who was more of a live-and-let-live, “enjoy the food and the golf game while you can” sort of guy. The difference between them is distilled in the below scene.

Oliver Hardy: We’re friends because Hal Roach put us together. And the only reason we stayed together was because the audience wanted it. I have real friends. And yes, we play golf. And we go to ball games. And we have sauerkraut on our bratwurst.
Stan Laurel: People will remember our movies long after you’ve finished your hot dogs. You know something? You’re just just a lazy-ass who got lucky ’cause you met me.
Hardy: Lucky? To spend my life with a hollow man who hides behind his typewriter? You’re not real, Stan. You’re hollow. You’re empty.
Laurel: I loved us.
Hardy: You loved Laurel and Hardy. But you never loved me.
Laurel: So what?

What’s so hollow about working on material and being focused on career moves? Anyone who’s really into writing and mining inspiration knows that “hiding behind a typewriter” never enters into it. In any two-man partnership there’s only room for one laid-back golf player. Hardy believes that his “real” friends are the ones he laughs and chuckles with between putting greens and banquet meals. He’s wrong.