JDIFF Review – The Stag

Fionan (Hugh O’Conor) is a man about to be married. However, the stress of planning the whole affair seems to be getting to him, so at his fiancée’s suggestion, he sets out on a stag weekend in the Dublin mountains with his friends Davin (Andrew Scott) and Simon (Brian Gleeson), as well as his younger brother Kevin (Michael Legge) and his long term partner Kevin (Andrew Bennett) for a relaxing weekend of hiking and camping. There’s a catch, however; Ruth (Amy Hubermann) insists that her brother The Machine (Peter McDonald) – known for being rowdy and rather insufferable – go along with the gang.

Of late, Irish men have been getting something of a raw deal in film. There is no shortage of talented Irish actors who go on to great things elsewhere, but in homegrown cinema, there has been a recent trend of portraying our men as boorish, loud and insensitive. Thank god then, for The Stag. John Butler and Peter McDonald’s screenplay gives us characters who seem to be a step forward – and at times a small step backwards – for the men of Ireland.

Hugh O’Conor takes on the role of Groomzilla Fionan and, although there are times when the character definitely needs to unwind, O’Conor gives Fionan charm and charisma, albeit it buried underneath a layer of neurosis and panic. Andrew Scott plays a similarly tightly wound character, but like Fionan, Davin is a man who cares and Scott captures the balance between panic, heartbreak and gentleness. Brian Gleeson makes Simon another highly strung character whose troubles are slowly revealed, and Legge and Bennet – as the two Kevins – are mellow and kind, and serve balance these panicky characters out. Peter McDonald has some truly inspired and inventive lines as The Machine and, although he does a good job of berating, insulting and shaking the other men up, he also is a man with troubles.

It does take a little getting used to these characters on screen – men who are precious and demanding in a way that we have rarely seen in Irish cinema before – but once the other shoe drops, the characters are fairly well fleshed out and, even though few of their issues are actually resolved, they feel like real, relatable people. Sadly though, there are not as many laughs as there could be, with many of the insanity that the gang find themselves caught up in coming off as embarrassing, rather than funny. As well as this, there are times when the arguing feels a little like teenage girls bickering rather than people actually sounding out their problems.

In all, The Stag presents Irish men in a refreshing new light – even if the bickering gets a little much at times. O’Conor and Scott shine, as always, and although The Stag may not be quite as funny as it thinks it is, it is still rather entertaining and acutely observed.

Rating: 3.5/5

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