The Stag (15)
Directed by: John Butler
Starring: Andrew Scott, Hugh O’Conor & Peter McDonald
Running time: 94 min
Love is only chatter, Friends are all that matter.
Marketed as an Irish version of The Hangover, cinema goers expecting to see a gross-out outlandish comedy will be left disappointed. In its place they will find a charming, genuinely touching and not to mention hilarious comedy drama. This is a movie that belongs more in the realism of Barrytown then the fantasy world of Las Vegas.
At her wits end with fiancée Fionan’s (Hugh O’Conor) obsessing over every detail of their upcoming nuptials (particularly in one fantastic scene with wedding planner Justine Mitchell – who nearly walks off with the film in her brief scene), Ruth (Amy Huberman), enlists the help of his best man Davin (Moriarty himself, Andrew Scott) to take the metro… Politan Fionan away for a stag weekend. He is joined by mild mannered U2 denier Simon (Brian Gleeson), gay couple Kevin and Kevin (Andrew Bennett and Michael Legge) and, against his best efforts, by Ruth’s boorish brother, known as The Machine (Moone Boy’s Peter McDonald).
The set up is nothing original, with everything from The Hangover to last year’s Few Best Men mining the pre-wedding blow-out as an excuse for raunchy, far flung mayhem. What sets this film apart is that none of the cast fall into their expected token role. The Machine could quite easily have turned into the movie’s equivalent of Stiffler but McDonald (who also co-wrote the script) is in spectacular form, grounding his character with real depth and a realism to any group of friends who all have that ‘one’ within the group. He never crosses the line to offensive or tasteless and, as a result, the audience is rewarded with a character that resembles an actual person as opposed to a catchphrase spouting bore.
The cast are excellent across the board, Brian Gleeson (son of Irish film legend Brendan) shows enough guile and put upon humor to suggest it won’t be too long before his name isn’t suffixed with his famous father’s name and becomes a respected talent in his own right. Andrew Bennett and Michael Legge convey a wonderful chemistry as a couple plagued with all too real and topical problems and thankfully their sexuality is never played for tasteless laughs. Their story arc is beautifully handled and threatens to overshadow the main plot, which sees tensions between Davin and Fionan simmering to a boil due to the best man’s feelings towards his friend’s fiancée. Scott, fresh from his reappearance in Sherlock, gives a wonderfully nuanced performance, his eyes tinged with sadness while maintaining his loyalty to his best friend. The duality is never conveyed better than during his heartbreaking rendition of the Patrick Kavanagh classic Raglan Road, which hopefully will find its way into the soundtrack. Stuck with what could have been the least interesting role in the movie theater, stand out Hugh O’Conor inhibits Fionan with enough restraint so as to never make the character a whiney cliché, but also stands his ground enough that we never want to just see him cast aside for the more romantic Davin to step in. It is a very tricky balancing act and O’Conor, who has been on the cusp of a break out role for the past few years, absolutely nails it.
The film though will ultimately live and die by one measuring stick, is it funny? And on that front the film is a massive success. Foregoing any artificially outrageous set pieces – no tigers or giraffe decapitations here. The film instead relies on the delivery of its talented cast, along with its slick humor and stinging one liners. This is not to say that director John Butler is above moments of crudeness, as he puts his game cast through the ringer during one unforgettable reenactment of the Emperor Penguin huddle. It is a nice commentary on male bonding rituals without ever sacrificing story for laughs. It is the best Irish film for quite some time and seems destined to be spoken about in the same terms as The Snapper or The Commitments. Highly recommended.
4 out of 5 Nerds