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Comedy Duos and Feminist Docs in CBUS Theaters

Hope Madden Hope Madden Comedy Duos and Feminist Docs in CBUS TheatersPhoto still from "Stan & Ollie," via IMDb.
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It’s a light week in cinemas as a lot of theaters bring back new Oscar nominations. Indeed, Gateway is screening 10-time nominee Roma in 70mm. Still, there are a couple of new flicks worth checking out.

Stan & Ollie

Wouldn’t it be nutty to peek behind the curtain of one of cinema’s most famous pairs — your Martin and Lewis, Abbott and Costello, Bert and Ernie — only to find that they are exactly as entertaining and likable in person as they are onscreen?

That’s actually part of what makes Stan & Ollie, Jon S. Baird’s loving biopic of the famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, so peculiar a film. Go in expecting demons, divas and drama and you will be disappointed. If you’re looking for a tender image of partnership and friendship struggling to overcome a harsh business, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The inexhaustible talent of John C. Reilly squeezes into a fat suit of Darkest Hour impressiveness as Oliver “Babe” Hardy. The physical transformation awes, but it’s the way the actor mines Hardy’s gentle good nature that impresses even more.

Coogan’s the real surprise. Not only is his resemblance to Stan Laurel almost eerie, but the performance is easily the best dramatic turn of his career.

Both actors, working from a wistful script by Coogan’s Philomena writing partner Jeff Pope, sidestep drama in favor of a kind of resigned camaraderie. Theirs is that well-worn relationship of both love and necessity that comes with decades of familiarity, unspoken grievances and love.

The actors’ chemistry is a fine match for that of the iconic duo, and through the pairing, Baird explores partnership in a more meaningful and less sentimental way than what you’d normally find in a “stars in their declining years” biopic.

The result is an endearing, if slightly underwhelming dramedy, enlivened by Baird’s charming direction. While the film is at its best when Coogan and Reilly quietly grapple with changes facing them, it is at its most enjoyable when art imitates life, imitating art. That is, when Stan and Ollie drag a really big trunk up a big flight of stairs, only to let go of it, watch it slide back to the bottom, and do it again.

Like the comedy of Laurel and Hardy, this film is sweet, clever and entirely of another time.

Grade: B+

Yours In Sisterhood

A conversation between generations, a glimpse into the changing and yet somehow unchanged reality of feminism — filmmaker Irene Lusztig’s unusual documentary Yours in Sisterhood bridges eras to shed some light.

In Lusztig’s lyrical timeloop, modern readers share letters written to the editors of Ms. Magazine in the 70s and early 80s. The magazine, the first mainstream feminist periodical, began publishing in 1972 and amplified the sounds of the second wave of feminism enjoying the spotlight at the time.

The letters read, in every case but one, went unpublished, so this doc is the first opportunity the original writer has had to share those decades-old thoughts with a large audience.

Lusztig’s choice of reader — sometimes the writer herself, but usually a stranger making her or his first meeting with the letter — creates the film’s most poignant moments.

At times, these readers have much in common with the original scribe: age, race, geographic locale or socioeconomic circumstances. One letter, penned by an incarcerated young woman on the verge of release from prison, is read and then commented upon by a woman currently behind bars in the same institution.

In other instances, the reader is in one way or another at odds with the writer. This confluence and conflict creates some fascinating and fascinatingly untidy responses. In many ways, the energy of the film relies on the tension between the few people who feel well-matched and the few people who feel dissonant.

What usually happens is that a wrinkle in the larger fabric of feminism shows itself. In the case of the writer, this often takes the form of a person who does not hear her voice or see her face in the pages of the magazine.

In the case of the modern reader, questions about the movement’s evolution or lack thereof open up conversations and considerations worth examining in this post #MeToo, post 2016 election environment.

Grade: B+

Also opening in Columbus:

Genesis 2.0 (NR)
The Kid Who Would Be King (PG)
Manikarnika (NR)
Mr. Manju (NR)
Serenity (R)

Read more from Hope and crew at MADDWOLF and listen to their weekly reviews of all new theatrical and home entertainment releases on the SCREENING ROOM PODCAST.

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