An Irish comedy about the rowdiest of male traditions, you would be forgiven for thinking The Stag is filled with drinking, more drinking and a unhealthy shot of strippers and misogyny. When six Irish guys get together for a stag do, the stereotype says there will be booze fuelled carnage. The fact that The Stag barely contains any alcohol at all is just one of its many surprises.
The Stag follows Davin (Andrew Scott), best man to Fionnan (Hugh O’Conor) who appears to be a husband made in heaven. Not only does he help plan the finest details of the wedding with excruciatingly meticulous models, he does not even want a stag do. He is a very, very modern man; sensitive, metrosexual and more interested in making his wife happy with the wedding of her dreams than with cutting loose for one last night out with the boys. Davin is tasked with getting what boys there are together to take Fionnan on a trip into the outdoors and possibly discover their inner wild men. Rounding up gay couple Big Kevin and Little Kevin and quiet web designer Simon, the guys head out into the wilderness for a quiet weekend of walking. Unfortunately Fionnan’s brother-in-law-to-be The Machine (Peter McDonald) is also invited along and is guaranteed to spoil any of these mild mannered men’s ideas of a sensible stag do.
The Stag has a highly refreshing take on modern masculinity. Its menfolk are all mature, sensible and sensitive. Only The Machine threatens to derail their calm weekend of camping and hiking. At first he comes across like a simple Stifler knock off, the douche who no one really likes but is always the life and soul of the party. Despite Davin’s plans to keep him away, The Machine is an unstoppable force determined to get the party started even if everyone else just wants him to go away. A character like this could easily make or break the film and his entry promises little. However as the The Stag progresses, he quickly becomes the most interesting and likeable of the group. The Machine, in fact, could be just what these buttoned up bores need.
As a result, The Stag takes a great deal of time to get going. Its early attempts at comedy are very hit and miss and while it sets up its six main characters, it is difficult to imagine spending a whole weekend with them. It is only after conflicts emerge and The Machine begins to take his place as de facto let-it-all-hang-out counsellor to the group that The Stag really kicks off. There may not be any drinking or strippers in the wilderness but once one of the Kevins dishes out first some hash and then MDMA, things quickly get out of hand when first they lose their tent and soon after, their clothes.
What started out as a weekend of hiking through the countryside swiftly turns into something far more fun. As the men reveal their various problems (bankruptcy, lost loves and prejudice), the characters grow on you. The fact they are freezing cold, frequently naked and miserable only makes The Stag warmer to watch. Though the comedic elements are far less convincing than the drama, The Stag still has plenty of humorous moments. After a slow start, it gets funnier and funnier while at the same time increasingly serious as the film goes on.
The performances from the six leads help sell these at first dull but then increasingly loveable characters. They may not all immediately grab attention but Andrew Scott as Davin and Peter McDonald as The Machine deliver standout performances, both revealing hidden depths beneath their seemingly clear cut characters. Though the early parts of the script let them down with few and far between mediocre laughs, the ensemble all impress with the later drama.
It’s a shame that the beautiful Irish landscape isn’t captured with the kind of glorious cinematography it deserves. Some shots resonate with the cloudy skies and winter colours adding to the misery that some of the characters are feeling and the soundtrack often heightens the sense of place and mood.
The Stag is far from a typical boys own adventure. Although it focuses almost exclusively on men, it sensitively covers a range of representations of modern masculinity from homosexuals to alpha males. The fact that none of them come across as stereotypical misogynist nitwits is to The Stag’s great credit. Like the best stag parties, it takes a while for things to get going as people get to know each other but once the fun begins (and the intoxicants start flowing), there is enough laughs and bro-mance to ensure no nasty hangover. All in all, The Stag is warmer, sweeter and on occasion funnier than its American counterpart The Hangover.