The Stag: Toronto Review

The Stag - H 2013
Courtesy of TIFF
Formulaic but effective comedy survives a performance that first threatens to overwhelm it.

A brother-in-law-to-be disrupts a hiking trip-cum-bachelor party.

TORONTO — A gentle soul who really, really doesn't want a bachelor party gets a humdinger in The Stag, a light Irish comedy marking the feature-directing debut of novelist John Butler. Though the genial ensemble is at first overpowered by Peter McDonald's performance as the let's-go-wild troublemaker that is de rigueur in such films these days, the picture recovers and solidifies into a familiar but likable exercise in male bonding. The absence of any familiar names diminishes its prospects with Stateside viewers, but the movie does its job better than many mainstream releases treading the same ground.

Hugh O'Conor plays Fionnan, a theatrical stage designer who is so involved in planning his weeks-away wedding many viewers will assume the film is setting up a third-act declaration that he's gay. (He isn't.) Needing to get him out of her hair, fiancee Ruth (Amy Huberman) gets best man Davin (Andrew Scott) to coerce him into a weekend hiking trip with three other pals. Then comes the hitch: They'll also have to invite Ruth's brother (Peter McDonald), who calls himself The Machine and is as incompatible with quiet, respectable outings as the moniker suggests.

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McDonald is credited as co-screenwriter with Butler, and one wonders if he's not mostly responsible for a character who seems to have dropped into the film from an entirely different universe. Given to military lingo and impulsive provocations, the character is hated immediately by his travel companions; for a spell, McDonald gives none of his costars room to breathe. But he only really pushes the characterization too far in a couple of instances in which The Machine makes lisping funny-voice mockery of men he finds insufficiently manly. On the whole his put-downs are funny, and his interaction with an electric fence is a hoot.

The Machine continues to be the instigator of comic mishaps as the story moves into the wilderness, but other characters grow less invisible: Simon (Brian Gleeson) stands up for his right to be an Irishman who hates U2; gay couple Kevin and Kevin (Andrew Bennett and Michael Legge) lament the fact that Fionnan's father's homophobia prevents them from attending the wedding. Comic set pieces aren't as artificially outrageous as we'd expect from a Hollywood take on this tale, but they do manage to get the sextet stranded, naked but for some improvised thongs, in the cold woods -- the perfect conditions under which to address a buried emotional secret that, though a fairly bald and implausible plot contrivance, is dispatched with a minimum of in-the-buff fisticuffs.

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Tech values are polished, even if they don't quite make the most of the Irish country setting. A closing, group-hug musical number is only mildly painful to watch.

Production Company: Treasure Entertainment

Cast: Andrew Scott, Hugh O'Conor, Peter McDonald, Brian Gleeson, Andrew Bennett, Michael Legge, Amy Hubermann

Director: John Butler

Screenwriters: John Butler, Peter McDonald

Producers: Rebecca O'Flanagan, Rob Walpole

Director of photography: Peter Robertson

Production designer: Ferdia Murphy

Music: Stephen Rennicks

Editor: John O'Connor

Sales: Metro International Entertainment

No rating, 94 minutes