You don't have to be familiar with Laurel and Hardy to love Stan & Ollie.
The new film is a charming, beautiful look at the friendship of the classic comedy duo as they tour the UK almost 20 years after their prime. Like Chaplin before it, Stan & Ollie is masterful at showing the early film stars in their element -- both the skill and genius they brought to the screen and their lives off it.
Steve Coogan (Philomena) and John C. Reilly (Chicago) step into Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy's uber-talented shoes in performances that earned them BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations, respectively.
Both are brilliant and without their dedicated, soulful turns as the legendary screen pairing the film would not work at all.
What made Laurel and Hardy so successful and beloved was their easy, compatible chemistry -- something Reilly and Coogan have in spades.
Make no mistake, this film is a far cry from the last movie to feature the two talented actors -- the derided and misguided Holmes and Watson.
Reilly might be the more visually spectacular of the two -- with truly top-notch prosthetics transforming the lovable actor into a highly-believable silhouette of the rotund Hardy -- but it's the subtlety of Coogan that is the true stand-out.
They manage to recreate the undeniably dated routines of Laurel and Hardy (two men lightly dancing in front of a western background doesn't really evoke belly laughs these days) with such specificity and authenticity that's it's hard not to get completely swept up.
Some of the sight gags, however, are still charming and enjoyable, and the script brilliantly works them into the action.
Outside of their great routines, the deep and profound friendship of the pair stands out. They may have had their ups and downs -- contract squabbles and resentment do rear their ugly heads from time to time -- but at heart Stan and Ollie are true best friends, the kind that never really fade, regardless of distance and time.
Reilly and Coogan are well supported by the actresses playing their respective wives -- Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle in Harry Potter) and stage star Nina Arianda.