Trite, crude and often far removed from any semblance of reality, the guys-night-out-bachelor-party-dude-bro-road-trip-farce-flick, which stretches from White Castle to Vegas, has become a cliché in approach alone (though that’s certainly not to arrogantly overlook the fact that there are still some gems to be found along that well traveled road). The Stag (also known as The Bachelor Weekend Stateside) certainly abides by certain conventions associated with this comedy subgenre, but more often than not it opts for earnestness over vulgarity and simplicity over bombast. It’s an admirable decision to say the least, but whether it works within its own targeted slice of cinema is another matter entirety.
From an outsider’s perspective, it would seem fundamentally difficult to approach the jumbled plot of The Stag in the manner it does, attempting to craft it in a way grounded enough to evoke genuine emotions from the audience yet still have it remain palatable for escapist mass consumption. A drunken lark meshing with a confrontation of suppressed emotions on the eve of someone’s big day isn’t the easiest, no pun intended, of marriages – where silly humour may undermine the more genuine moments, so to could the humanity put a kink in the goofiness. But The Stag does manage to find a solid balance between these aspects, not by leaving out too much of one or the other to be unsatisfying, but rather by having the requisite bumps in the road happen simply as the journey unfolds, not as some bizarre aside that seems pulled from another film.
This particular journey of self-fulfillment takes place on the British countryside as the best man (Andrew Scott of Sherlock fame) of a stodgy, slightly effeminate groom-to-be convinces him (somewhat at the bequest of his overwhelmed better half) to take him and some friends on a weekend hike. But as these things go, his lady love insists they bring along her boorish brother (known formally as “The Machine”), a scenario that has this band of proper gents trembling in their newly purchased garish trekking attire. While the inclusion of this booze swilling, politically incorrect man’s man may be the initial fodder for all the jibs, gabs and one liners, the trip soon becomes more about male bonding and facing the demons awaiting them upon their return to the real world.
These more tender scenes are handled quite well here, and ring more truthfully than not, even more so considering that The Stag does indeed take the time to build backstories for these friends, and as things begin to get hectic the emotions that emerge aren’t always the most pleasant to witness. Old grudges, insecurities and newfound anger are all interspersed with the impromptu drug trips, naked forest romps and comedic follies. And as I iterated previously, not sacrificing a comedic approach for dramatics, or generally allowing one side to overtake the other is a feat that must be congratulated. The looming question that remains is that with the inclusion of these earnest, likeable moments, does it sacrifice the very soul most people are searching for when venturing to a film about a bachelor party?
Oddly, at least considering this writer’s tastes where I so often bemoan the horrid state of most frat boy road trip buffoonery, the answer is at least, partially, yes, as the tamer overall nature of The Stag leaves it somewhat inconsequential, if not unappealing as a whole. But when all is said and done, honest, kind interactions placed within a comedy of errors does more for the soul than tasteless, endless slapstick or a runtime that designates a serious portion to jokes about excrement (a staple unfortunately at home in many party-esque road trip comedies).
When this trip concludes, good times and clichés all accounted for, The Stag is a chipper, breezy comedy with dedicated performances from some cusp British thesps, smooth laughs and enough of a blend of comedic follies and personal moments to keep a good chunk of viewers entertained, if not blown away. If anything, it’s a date night comedy that will leave you feeling clean and happy (even its gay characters are handled with respect and without a hint of stereotypical traits). Rather than rushing to rinse yourself of F-bombs and bodily fluids which is so often the case, average effort or not, I’ll take compassion over shrill bitterness any day.
The stripped down, character centric antics of The Stag are admirable (especially considering the stigma of the bachelor party movie subgenre), though one can't help but to think that a tad more outlandishness would have done it some good.