Archive for January 15, 2019

The Boys

Posted in Dance, FILM with tags , , , , , on January 15, 2019 by dcairns

Went to see STAN & OLLIE en masse — well, five of us did. Is five a masse?

Hmm. I know some people love this movie. I think the sparse audience didn’t help it catch fire at this particular screening. And there are a lot of good things to be said about it: nice long take at the start, good thirties locations/sets, and much more importantly, very good performances (enhanced by invisible, highly effective makeups).

We were all happy enough to have seen it, but a bit underwhelmed by the overall experience. We debated whether it fell between two stools — not accurate/insightful enough for people who know a lot about Laurel & Hardy, too nerdy for those who don’t. But I think it’s done fine with people who are fond of the boys but don’t know much about them.

I’ve tried to imagine what the film would seem like to people who don’t know anything at all about Laurel & Hardy, haven’t seen them (practically a whole generation). I guess they would get the impression that the boys were famous primarily for a little dance they did, which was charming and inexplicably caused audiences to roar with laughter. And for a scene where Ollie has a broken leg while Stan eats an egg.

I know — quite difficult to get across the breadth of what Laurel & Hardy did within one film while mainly telling a story about their real life relationship and their last days as performers. I think, though, at a minimum, the film should have shown, early on, the transformation that must have taken place when the boys shifted from being themselves — a comedy-obsessed genius and a meek actor — to being their characters — two idiots who don’t know they’re idiots. The lovely dance is actually in the way.

Director Jon S. Baird does some nice things, but his style as manifested in his previous film, FILTH, is modern and hyper-kinetic (quite effectively so). Applied to comedians doing visual comedy and dance on a stage, he’s both stifled by the lack of opportunities and practically Klingon in his insensitivity to the delicate pantomime in front of him. So he cuts everything into fragments, with continual reaction shots of guffawing audiences, which is a REALLY good way to stop the movie audience from laughing. And every time he tries to be “cinematic” in his narration, with flashbacks (picture or just sound), imaginary sequences, etc, it’s just horrible, in a way that makes me too tired to even break down why it’s so ineffective and ugly. I suppose “unnecessary” would be the word I would wearily reach for.

A shame, because there are touching moments — it’s much better at that than at reproducing or suggesting the comedy. And, around midway, the wives show up, and the film gets a tremendous lift. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda are terrific in these roles, and they have all the advantages. Unlike Steve Coogan And John C. Reilly, they’re not tasked with impersonating famous and beloved comics. And, while the men have to peel away the layers of performative artifice to show us what Arthur Stanley Jefferson and Norvell Hardy were really like, thereby making them not funny any more (the boys always wanted to be lit as flatly as possible, to keep their on-screen dimensionality to a minimum), the wives get to be stereotypes, well-formed characters with only a couple of traits, perfect for being funny. AND they’re more aggressive than the boys which is funnier, AND this ties them to the long tradition of the boys having domineering wives in any films in which they play husbands. Which makes the whole bit delightful.

“I wanted a film about them,” said Fiona.

I can’t predict whether you’ll love this film or not based on how you feel about Laurel & Hardy. Don’t take this as a consumer guide — don’t EVER take anything I write as a consumer guide. I’m more in the genre of eccentric dancing.

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