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THE BACHELOR WEEKEND (released as THE STAG in Ireland) is a dry and witty film about a perniciously obnoxious interloper whose presence wreaks havoc on the eponymous traditional Irish pre-wedding ritual. As is the way with such tales, said interloper sparks moments of existential discovery for all involved, even himself, but this brisk and deadpan character study has such charm, and such bite, that the familiar tropes rise above the cliché. There is even room for a bit of character growth
The ritual, a Stag Weekend, is for Fionnan (Hugh O’Connor), a set designer who, according to his intended (Amy Huberman), is a little too involved with the wedding planning for her comfort. She nudges Fionnan’s best friend, Davin (Andrew Scott), to man Fionnan up with a walkabout through the wilds of their native Ireland. And so they go forth, with the best pals in tow, and Fionnan’s future brother-in-law, a walking nightmare of intimidation and crudeness known at The Machine (Peter McDonald), keeping it from getting boring.
In the course of the momentous weekend, the men will face several types of wildness, including a perfectly delightful bit of absurdity involving them getting lost in the woods in the middle of the night while wearing only footwear, and, in one case, a hat. Their choice of emperor penguin as the model of survival is such a situation has the perfect tinge of clueless desperation. Director John Butler, directing from a script he co-wrote with McDonald, keeps the mood low-key, even when he amps up the emotion involved, be it funny or poignant, and makes even those extremes perfect manifestations of the characters. Scott, in particular, stands out in this regard. Known for his suave and psychotic Moriarity in the contemporary reboot of Sherlock Holmes, he has the same cosmopolitan ennui, but with a quirky charm lurking beneath, and even a distinctly wistful melancholy to the campfire ballad he sings about love gone very wrong. Far from maudlin, it is a moment of unexpected by welcome revelation. McDonald, in the role he wrote for himself, evinces an almost charming fluency in the spew of profanity and political incorrectness that marks his character’s initial arc, and the same almost childlike innocence to the subsequent arc in which he spurs this companions, either through fear or disgust, to move beyond their comfort zones.
THE BACHELOR WEEKEND is both laugh out loud funny and wickedly sly with only a few lapses into the contrived or the obvious. It’s worth the lapses to have the rest.