At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking of The Stag as just a lower budget, Irish version of The Hangover. All the same ingredients are there – you’ve got your slightly mismatched group of friends, your slapstick comedy, and the quickly escalating, mayhem-fuelled stag party that’s the main driving force of both films.
But the similarities end there. As a comedy, The Stag is a lot more subtle than it’s Hollywood counter-part, fusing its more silly gags with moments of drama that are surprisingly effective. In a lot of ways it’s a better film.
The stag in question is wedding-obsessed metrosexual Fionnan (Hugh O’Connor), whose wife-to-be Ruth (Amy Huberman) encourages Fionnan’s best friend Davin (Andrew Scott) to take him away for a weekend of hiking in the mountains. The main driving force of the humour comes in the form of the bride’s gate-crashing brother, a kind of all-out, no-nonsense man’s man known as ‘The Machine’, who’s determined to turn a quiet mountain hike into a real boy’s adventure. He’s the Stifler of the group – a bit of a cardboard cut-out of a character, but Peter McDonald plays the role well and his inevitable softer side – which gradually comes through as the group starts to bond – helps to round his character rather than feeling forced. He also supplies some of the film’s most amusing moments – casually stripping naked and bombing into a filthy woodland lake; getting badly tangled in an electric fence after attempting to vault it – and his character forms an effective contrast with the rest of the men in the party.
The other strength of the film is the way it offsets its comedy with moments of drama, chiefly in the form of best man Davin’s unspoken romantic history with Fionnan’s bride-to-be; there’s a genuinely touching scene in which he sings in front of the camp-fire, and his inevitable confrontation with Fionnan, when it arrives, is tense and well-acted.
Despite these positives, the film does have its problems – it’s a slow starter (it takes awhile to warm to the characters and the real story doesn’t kick in until the group start out on their hike), there are a few moments that border on cliché, and the ending feels a bit too neat. Overall, though, it’s an enjoyable watch and a fun exploration of male stereotypes and ideas of masculinity.