When I was growing up, the ‘intellectuals’ argued that the true comic geniuses of the cinema were people like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. I always preferred Laurel & Hardy though – probably because I don’t think one should intellectualise comedy.
They had a gift for improvisation that should be the envy of the so-called avatars of contemporary ‘stand up’. It’s celebrated in somewhat elegiac form by Jon S. Baird in Stan & Ollie, an affectionate tribute to a rocky patch in their later career. Set in the 1950s when they found movie work hard to come by, it has the beloved duo embarking on a tour of the UK that brings them back to their vaudevillian roots.
Is it all over for them? Has the light dimmed on their especially slapstick routines? That’s what Steve Coogan (Laurel) and John C. Reilly (Hardy) have to find out as they play to dwindling audiences in the autumn of their careers and squabble a bit too.
They both look and sound uncannily like the real Stan & Ollie and their mannerisms are spot-on too, which means this is a very welcome trip down Memory Lane for those of us who were weaned on the hilarious ‘fine messes’ they got themselves into – and occasionally out of.
In another film based on real-life events, Hugh Jackman plays the 1980s US presidential candidate Gary Hart in The Front Runner. Hart’s hopes of entering the White House were guillotined when it was discovered that he was having an extra-marital affair with a young woman called Donna Rice.
His confidence was so high as the eponymous ‘front runner’, he all but dared the media to catch him in the act; they obliged with some gusto. He made the tragic mistake of under-estimating the fall-out his dalliance would engender and paid the ultimate price, becoming America’s Parnell of sorts.
The marital indiscretions of Democrats like John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton were more exhaustively transcribed by the press in the decades before and after Hart but his decline was much more dramatic, executed as it was with an almost brutal expediency. It wasn’t quite Watergate but it created a huge media storm at the time it happened.
Hugh Jackman plays him with a kind of tragic charm in Jason Reitman’s panegyric to a more naïve political climate than we have today, what with Donald Trump and his ilk staring down the paparazzi with a toughness that was light years away from Hart’s myopic bravado. Vera Farmiga is his long-suffering wife and Sara Paxton plays Rice.
Beautiful Boy is the third fact-based drama hitting our screens this month. Featuring Steve Carell as a journalist confronted with the fact that his son is destroying himself with crystal meth, it boasts a powerhouse performance from Timothée Chalamet as the drug-addicted boy.
Carell is also in fine form as the beleaguered father who has to watch his son’s life literally crumbing before his eyes.