Film Review: ‘The Stag’


You’d perhaps be forgiven for thinking that John Butler’s The Stag (2013), co-written and starring Peter McDonald, might be in the vein of Bridesmaids (2011) or Bachelorette (2012) before it. What we actually get is a surprisingly tender Irish comedy, which traverses the depths of modern masculine identity, whilst aping the tropes of the genre. Fionnan (Hugh O’Conor) is a set designer about to marry the love of his life, Ruth (Amy Huberman). But Fionnan is not a man’s man. He spends his day, not considering the end of his bachelorhood, but instead wrapped up in the finer details of the wedding plan, even going to the trouble of making a detailed diorama of the big day.

Concerned that her future hubby should go through the traditional ‘rite of passage’, Ruth convinces Fionnan’s best friend, academic Davin (Andrew Scott, best known for his madly camp Moriarty in the BBC’s Sherlock) to go camping in the Irish hills with Fionnan for a wild lad’s weekend of bonding and boozing. There is however an issue; Ruth’s brother, ominously known as ‘The Machine’ (McDonald), has to be included in the shenanigans. The premise is fun if not fully formed, but it possesses an undeniable feel-good charm that provides more than a few laughs. The characters, ranging from the neurotic Fionnan to the alpha-male ‘Machine’, hold our attention with relative ease thanks to their numerous middle-class japes.

There are moments more typical of the genre, including a naked midnight dash through the woods, fuelled on MDMA, leading to the stags wandering around with their modesty covered by the flora and fauna of the forest, or whatever rags they have to hand. Andrew Scott steals the show, even providing a lonely hearts rendition of Raglan Road, and is arguably the film’s biggest draw. The central focus is on what it is to be a man, as the metro-sexual nature of the modern urbanite is thrown into question. These are wine-quaffing, middle-class professionals, all of whom have lost touch with their inner caveman, brought out by the presence of McDonald’s bullish character.

McDonald’s ‘Machine’ is an outlandish, U2-loving foil who’s responsible much of the film’s comedy, forcing everyone on the weekend to question what they’re doing with their lives. Initially a source of annoyance to the others, he soon becomes their saving grace, including forcing Davin to confess his feelings about a lost love. There’s also a brief sojourn in the plot that relates to the Irish economy, an issue that continues to perforate the nation’s cinema. With enough laughs to keep most onside and a gorgeous backdrop captured by DoP Peter Robertson, The Stag possesses plenty of light-hearted charm likely to win over audiences, bolstered by several enjoyable performances.

Joe Walsh