The Stag

Directed by John Butler

Starring Andrew Scott, Hugh O’Conor, Peter McDonald, Brian Gleeson and Amy Huberman
In Irish Cinemas March 7th, 2014
Exclusively in Vue Cinemas in the UK March 14th, 2014

by Amanda Farley

The Stag weekend; a well-established and formulaic tradition that is somewhat predictable in execution and yet highly enjoyable, one assumes, to experience. The same can be said about this charming comedy set in the wilds of Ireland. With his wedding day fast approaching, Fionnan (Hugh O’Conor) is more than happy to take care of all the little details, in fact he’s even created a diorama much to his wedding planner’s horror. All he cares about is making sure the big day is perfect for his fiancée Ruth (Amy Huberman). While he strives for perfection, Ruth begins to think that perhaps he needs a little distraction. She turns to his best man and friend, University Lecturer Davin (Andrew Scott), to convince Fionnan that he is stag material after all.

As preparations get under way, a reluctant Fionnan begins to come around to the idea, that is until he realises Ruth expects him to invite her brother to the stag, a man known only as ‘The Machine’ (Peter McDonald). With Davin still in love with Ruth, who he dated several years ago, and ‘The Machine’ determined to inject a bit of stag tradition into the whole affair, this is one bachelor party they aren’t ever likely to forget. As Fionnan, Davin, Fionnan’s gay brother (Michael Legge) and his partner (Andrew Bennet) both called Kevin, and their friend Simon (Brian Gleeson) head off for the Irish wilderness, it’s not long until ‘The Machine’ catches up with them. As personalities and ideas collide, a few days in nature becomes a madcap descent into nakedness and male bonding, where they all learn a little something about themselves and a whole lot more about each other.

The Stag marks the feature-directing debut of novelist John Butler. Taking advantage of the stunning Wicklow landscape, Butler creates a film that really captures the beauty of the area. While the subject matter threads very familiar territory, it does offer a different, gentler take on the bromance genre and it manages to avoid most of the normal pitfalls. Void of the typical toilet humour and knob gags, there is something refreshing about this milder look at male togetherness.

There is no denying that this film has a lot of heart and personality. These guys are the kind of people you can imagine being friends with, perhaps with the exception of ‘The Machine’. The cast are wonderful and without doubt the best thing about this film. Andrew Scott is magnetic as the best man to Hugh O’Conor’s effeminate and hyper sensitive groom to be. Brian Gleeson, Andrew Bennett and Michael Legge create a real sense of brotherhood and truth in their performances. Even Peter McDonald, who at times feels like he is acting in a different film, settles into the narrative and has moments of real sensitivity that you can’t help but engage with. The Stag feels like a grown up American Pie, where adults deal with life in the kind of childish way that only grownups can.

Where The Stag falls down is in the comedy. Despite its charm and heart, it fails to deliver on laughs. It falls back on jokes that feel tired and dated. A perfect example of this is the running gag around how to pronounce the name Fionnan, “It’s Fionn-awn!”. There is something lazy about a comedy that relies on such worn and jaded territory, which is a shame because it detracts from what could otherwise have been a real comedy gem. If only the writers had trusted in the strength of the characters they created, it could have been a much more rewarding and comic experience for all involved.

So while The Stag might not be the funniest or most innovative of films, it is an enjoyable way to spend a few hours, and well worth watching not least of all to hear Andrew Scott’s rendition of ‘On Raglan Road’.

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