Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is Ireland’s ‘Hangover’. If anything it is the polar opposite. The guys in John Butler and Peter McDonald’s comedy aren’t even that keen on the idea of a Stag, let alone ‘groomzilla’ Fionnan (Hugh O’Conor); a designer so involved in the details of his wedding that he creates a scale model of the reception for his wedding planner.
Fionnan’s bride-to-be, Ruth, approaches Davin (Andrew Scott), the ever so slightly more traditionally masculine best man, to request he sets up a stag weekend. David’s plans for a weekend of walking and camping are thrown into chaos with the arrival of Ruth’s brother; an extraordinary alpha male known only as The Machine (Peter McDonald).
John Butler’s feature-length debut is very funny, downright silly in many (many) places and full to the brim with idiotic, down-to-earth laughs. The setup is simple and the follow through even more ‘no-frills’ with joyous results. In a script written by Butler and McDonald it is their believable characters that make the film what it is. Not high stakes, high octane thrills and spills. There are no excuses to go over the top; this is just a bunch of guys getting lost, making idiots of themselves and trying to find their way out of this mess. Indeed, the characters are beautifully realised despite much individual attention.
There are attempts at storylines for the Stag invitees (Simon is having money problems, gay couple ‘The Kevins’ aren’t coming to the wedding) but the comedy is at its best when everyone is just being a bit of a prat; but big hearted prats at that. The film centres on a convincing friendship group and while it mainly dispenses with getting to know you dialogue, the bonds are clear enough as they try, try and try again to simply have a nice, relaxing walking holiday.
And the reason they continually fail? The answer is simple enough – The Machine; a character so in your face and confidently offensive that nothing can stop him. Peter McDonald is obviously having a ball playing the antagonist and he does it with just enough heart in the gentler moments to get away with it. That said, his introduction is just a little too heavy handed and he can be wearing at times. The alpha male thing is pushed a little too hard and you feel that he needn’t be quite so offensive to bother the rest of the gang.In an enjoyable departure from his best known performance as Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock (for which he won a BAFTA), Andrew Scott is excellent as best-man-with-a-secret, Davin (also proving himself to have a lovely singing voice during a camp-fire sing-song).
The opening scene in which he lists his petty issues with past girlfriends (which, admittedly, could have been lifted directly from an episode of Friends) introduces his serial monogamist tendencies and the emotional heart of the film lies in his relationship with Fionnan which might not be entirely honest. Scott brings a lovely subtlety to Davin while throwing himself whole-heartedly into the more physical nature of a lot of the comedy. Of the others Brian Gleeson stands out as the money-worried gentle soul, Simon, but the ensemble nature of the piece is integral to the honesty of the script and every character has moments of heart and hilarity to enjoy.
The Stag is not overly concerned with subtlety, and this is hugely in its favour. Much of the film involves the lads naked or having fashioned some kind of leaf nappies and much hilarity is gained from an increasingly catastrophic series of set pieces in their attempts to get back to the pub where they started in one piece.
Outrageously funny in some places and very funny in many others, The Stag is, in fact, a great antidote to the overly-stylish, slickly arranged chaos of Hollywood comedy blockbusters.
The Stag is out now.