Okay, so now that the embargo for Stan & Ollie has lifted, here goes. As with most festivals, teasers suggested this would be the surprise screening, so all plans were thwarted because who wouldn’t want to indulge in some old-school classic Hollywood magic? And that’s just what this film is.
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were a Hollywood success story and by 1937 when their film Way Out West was released they were the biggest comedy duo of all time. When you think of slapstick comedy it’s their names that come to mind. For years their shenanigans kept people entertained.
Jon S. Baird’s new film opens with the partners at the height of their fame, but soon we falsh forward to 1957 England where Laurel and Hardy are on tour. Except now, they’re careers are fading and their antics are aging. They’re playing to empty houses and they’re slowly being forgotten about. Abbott and Costello posters are plastered on a wall — the new big stars, ready in line to take the spotlight. That’s what we do. We move on when the next fresh thing comes along, right?
It’s a striking moment, one we see all too often. Legends make way for that next best thing.
Oliver Hardy (an excellent John C. Reilly ) has health problems and wants to retire, but Stan Laurel (a magnificent Steve Coogan) has one more movie idea that he’s working on. Their efforts to support each other to the bitter end is a heart-warming story of the sunset of Hollywood’s golden-era. It’s a warm and sentimental look at the love story of friendship.
Shirley Henderson (Lucille) and Nina Arianda (Ida) must receive credit as the wives, each providing their own brand of humor as a bonus treat.
Jeff Pope’s script ensures there is plenty of fun and entertainment as a fond tribute to Laurel & Hardy’s twilight years. Baird takes us back to the Hollywood uproarious heyday, when comedy was golden. Stan & Ollie is a charming film filled with sentiment. An unexpected surprise here at Middleburg but a delightful and much welcome one.
Day Two left me no room for lunch, but that’s not a bad thing. Right? Trail mix and a bit more caffeine to keep energy levels at a 100%. I realized that Kombucha has a good amount of caffeine so in between films, I went into the local Safeway and bought myself a bottle. Yes, it’s so LA, but there, I did it. I also made time for a walk through the local high street. It’s always an irresistible experience to stroll through a town brimming with so much history and character. You know, LA’s history barely goes back to the 1900s. So, it’s heaven for a history buff like me to take a walking tour among buildings that date back to the 1700s.
I could have squeezed in a swim at the resort, but that didn’t happen. I’m one of those people who will pack my gym gear, just in case, but you know, I’m never really going to use it. The intention is there though, so that’s healthy, yes? However, while I was off to my next screening, Jennifer sent me a text. She too had time for swim and actually dove in. Yes, she’s one who brings her gear and uses it. She had the pool to herself for a while and then, “This man just got in.” She was a bit bothered because she had to share her lane. Turns out she was doing laps next to Joel Edgerton who’s here at the festival to talk about his movie, Boy Erased. See there? That’s what’s so great about this festival, and I implore you to check it out if you can! It’s the festival that gets bigger and better each year. And it’s such an intimate setting that you never know who your lap lane partner is going to be.
Alright, so the Friday night movie was Widows. I’d already seen it in LA and of course, absolutely loved it. It’s a kick to see these great women take control of a risky situation and rule the roost. Was it even more fun the second time around? Yes, it absolutely was.
From the get go, Steve McQueen plunges you headlong into Widows non-stop twists and turns. The opening shot is Viola Davis (Veronica) and Liam Neeson (Harry) in bed, the next minute we learn that Harry is a criminal. He’s in the midst of pulling off a robbery with his fellow thieves, when things goes disastrously wrong and they’re all killed in an explosive opening. Joe Walker, who has worked with McQueen before, flawlessly edits the film and that sequence, cutting between the immediate mayhem and scenes from earlier that day showing not the husbands, but their wives. It’s a brilliant opening sequence that keeps you hooked from beginning to end.
Viola Davis as Veronica never questions how her husband provided them with a slick penthouse. As soon as she is backed into a corner, Veronica’s confidence, determination emerges. Michelle Rodriguez plays Linda, the owner of a clothing boutique. We learn that her husband was a gambler who gambled away her store and the guys he owes want their money. Elizabeth Debicki is an absolute revelation as Alice. Her husband, too, leaves her with nothing but trouble, and her mother (Jacki Weaver) isn’t a great influence either, suggesting that Alice use her looks to become an escort girl.
It’s Viola’s Veronica who leads the Widows down another path to solve their various problems, as they agree to pick up where their husbands left off — to finish pulling off the heist that went wrong. In the process, they gain newfound empowerment and confidence, compelled to test their inner strength because they have no other choice. The stakes could not be higher. If they don’t prevail, they’ll be killed by the crooks, loan-sharks, and corrupt politicians who want their money back.
Widows is a stunning ensemble piece. A great treat packed with superb showcase performances. Daniel Kaluuya does such terrible things and is villainous to his core. Brian Tyree Henry plays Jamal Manning, the ruthless man who wants his $2 million back that went missing in the van when the husband’s plans went awry. He’s up against Colin Farrell and Robert Duvall, a duo of dirty politicians.
Gillian Flynn co-authored the script and so we have a great plot with a web of twists and turns that we never see coming. Our characters are well developed and we are rewarded with terrific performances.
Han Zimmer’s score has to be commended here, his ticking tempo, the countdown to the heist, adds much to the tension and drama playing out.
Director of Photography Sean Bobbitt reunites with McQueen and one shot, in particular is a stunner. A long tracking shot, the camera placed on the hood of Farrell’s car leaving the impoverished area of Chicago until he reaches his home, a rich luxurious estate. We’re outside the car but can hear the conversation inside, as the street scenes that glide by provide a a striking visual commentary on the social and political issues in the city.
Widows is superb. It’s even better the second time around. A brilliant, edge-of-your-seat film. You couldn’t ask for a better director or cast to take a genre we know all to well and turn it on its head to create a unique slant on male treachery vs. sisterhood. It’s a great story with a diverse cast of females at the helm. It’s about goddamn time. Thank you, Steve McQueen!
When Widows ended, it was the earliest night of the trip for us, and by early, I mean 12am. We retired to our rooms and ordered room service. Nope, no crab cakes on the menu at this hour. It was wraps and then bed. Recharging for the next day which would be the absolute highlight of the entire festival. The Impact Award with Diane Warren. You can tune in later for my update on that. In the meantime, I’ll be moderating a Q&A with Capernaum director Nadine Labaki, interviewing Jason Reitman, Viggo Mortensen — and then heading back to LA!