BY SEAN EGAN | American audiences are conditioned to expect maximum levels of raucous debauchery from their bachelor party flicks — but “The Bachelor Weekend” provides viewers with a slightly different, more gentle spin on the genre. Released as “The Stag” overseas, this Irish import to the Tribeca Film Festival is a breezy, genial film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While it may seem like damning with faint praise, the amiable nature and heart of the movie is what sets it apart from the other films in its sub-genre.
The story centers around a persnickety groom-to-be Fionnan (Hugh O’Conor), who, at the urging of his fiancé and best man, Davin (Andrew Scott), is sent off on a “stag weekend” with his friend Simon, and “The Kevins” — his gay younger brother and his partner, who are both named Kevin. The lads plan to camp in the countryside to get in touch with their rougher sides, but things go awry when the bride’s brother (co-writer Peter McDonald) tags along — a force of nature who goes by the amusingly unwieldy moniker “The Machine.” As the group gets further off the beaten track in the wilderness, The Machine helps coach the group into being more confident and “manly” in his own unconventional way, while they help to soften his edges.
If the plot sounds a little cliché, or old-fashioned, it’s because it is. Everything clicks along just as one would expect — no setup goes without a payoff, nor is any narrative thread left unresolved. Even the commentary on gender roles and what “manliness” means isn’t exactly fresh or progressive (though it’s heart is in the right place). But it’s a familiar tale told well, with more than enough solid laughs and gags to justify its reliance on well-worn story structures, and has plenty of great character work to boot. McDonald and director John Butler’s script strikes a delicate balance between good-natured banter and dry humor, and bigger, physical comedy set pieces to ensure the film never feels too broad or too small-scale. It also takes the time to develop each of the characters enough to make them wholly endearing to the audience.
It also helps that the cast is exceptionally likable. As The Machine, McDonald has the comedic side of the film on lock, quick with one-liners and possessing a knack for physical comedy (a hysterical bit involving his character and an electric fence proves to be a highlight). Scott, as the put-upon best man, Davin, is fantastic. He kills with deadpan wit, but is even better at bringing depth to the inner conflict and pain his character feels — as in a particularly disarming sequence where he sings a heartbreaking tune a capella by the fire.
Many of the film’s strengths and weaknesses are best exemplified in an eleventh hour fight between Fionnan and Davin, which begins with emotional revelations and ends with a couple of semi-nude men brawling in the dirt. Is the fight predictable? Yes. But it doesn’t take anything away from how well-acted the sequence is, and how adept the film is at switching from effective character beats to broader comedy.
Butler, a first-time feature helmer (and co-writer) provides solid, and sometimes playful direction — a promising debut. The cinematography’s also quite pretty, and does a good job capturing the unique beauty of the damp, grey Irish countryside and forests. All these little things add up to allow “The Bachelor Weekend” to rise above its somewhat strict adherence to formula, and become a comedy worth seeking out.