While attending a film festival can deliver high amounts of heavy drama and international perspectives, an unexpected treasure trove also awaits when it comes to clever comedy. Throughout much of the year, filmgoers looking for laughs are subjected to the latest round of gross-out humour, or brainless trifles where everybody knows a couple is right for each other, except the two people in the couple.
TIFF 2013 brought me a wonderful comedy in the way of THE STAG, a film by Irish writer-director John Butler.
THE STAG is about a metrosexual groom-to-be named Fionnan (Hugh O’Conor). As his wedding day gets closer, his fiancée, Ruth (Amy Huberman) worries that he may need a mild boost in testosterone. Her quest sends her to his best man Davin (Andrew Scott). She presses him to organize a stag party for Fionnan, which leads Davin to ultimately decide on a hiking/camping getaway with Fionnan’s three other groomsmen. However, the band of brothers isn’t complete without Ruth’s brother “The Machine” (Peter McDonald).
The five lads might have done well for themselves in the country on their own, but with The Machine in-tow, all bets are off.
THE STAG isn’t looking to do anything revolutionary, which is a big reason why it works. Instead, it earns its laughs from how various types of men inter-relate (maintenance, academics, brutish louts, hetero and homosexuals). Camping trips come with days on end of close contact and no technology. As such, they have a way of splintering even the best of friends. When six men who are less tight-knit give it a go, the situation is rife for conflict.
Even if it wasn’t, The Machine would find a way to spark it.
Through it all though, The Machine surprises the audience with his complexity. This isn’t the first film where a seemingly-simple, oafish man has upset the order of things. However, in moment after moment, The Machine proves to be more than meets the eye. He has a far greater understanding of these men, and the problems they face than they do themselves. The way that he never sticks to his intuition or his hooliganry is what makes so much of the film a delight.
Beyond its considerable heart, THE STAG succeeds by crafting so many delightful gags. Utilizing sharp dialogue and pitch-perfect sight gags (male nudity is never not funny), the film succeeds admirably at entertaining and amusing its audience while still respecting their intelligence.
This movie was an unexpected gem in my schedule, and sold me forever more on the talents of Peter McDonald, Andrew Scott, and John Butler. It comes with some of the most honest performances you’re likely to see, and more brains, heart, and courage than any Hollywood comedy dare put forward.