Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Bachelor Weekend

THE BACHELOR WEEKEND           C                    
(aka:  The Stag)
Ireland  (94 mi)  2013  d:  John Butler  

This little single-celled organism is getting married to my sister.     
—The Machine (Peter McDonald)

Ireland doesn’t produce a lot of movies for export, which is surprising in a nation that reveres writers, often elevating them to the status of rock stars, yet still, despite the presence of the Irish Film Board, which provides funds for the development and production of Irish films, very few ever see the light of day internationally.  Perhaps best known are the works of John Michael McDonagh, writer and director of The Guard (2011), and his brother Martin, an Irish playwright who wrote and directed In Bruges (2008) and Seven Psychopaths (2012), each featuring Brendan Gleeson and/or Colin Farrell.  John Butler is an aspiring Irish writer, having moved to Los Angeles in 2006 and written a novel, The Tenderloin, also co-writing a currently running Irish television comedy show, Your Bad Self (2010 – present) before writing and directing this film, which will likely win him few accolades.  At times dreadful, at other times ridiculously absurd, this film is built around a wedding about to happen between Fionnan (Hugh O’Connor) and Ruth (Amy Huberman), where the groom, a theater set designer, is getting too involved in the tiny details of planning the wedding, even designing a small-scale model of what he has in mind, which causes the wedding planner some grief, as it’s hard to match or reproduce right down to the last detail.  Ruth finds his obsessive need for managing the minutia counterproductive and enlists his best man, Davin (Andrew Scott), to arrange a stag party where they can hike the great outdoors of the Irish countryside, turning into a camping trip over a weekend just to get him out of the house.  While it’s clear none of his friends are really the outdoors type, as they’re more of a highbrow group that feels perfectly comfortable dwelling on the details of middle class materialism, they nonetheless convince Fionnan to let himself go out on one final fling with the boys before losing his bachelorhood status.  While the title of the film upon release was THE STAG, once the movie arrived in America it was quickly changed to a more generic title, typical of Ellis Island immigration practices where foreign sounding names were Americanized.  Who knows what was so confusing about the original title? 

Opening with two friends, Fionnan and Davin, playing a cozy little game of backgammon, Davin goes through a litany of excuses for why he can’t commit to various girlfriends, using every known physical flaw as an excuse for why this would never work out, never realizing the degree of pretentious arrogance on display for even considering such a process of elimination.  Little did we know human shortsightedness would become an overall theme for the film, as a tightly knit group of friends, all with the same general styles and tastes, where casting routine judgmental opinions about others is standard and comes effortlessly, so it shouldn’t come as any big surprise that the joke is eventually on them.  It doesn’t bode well for the future of the marriage when Ruth insists that the group allow her brother to tag along, a loud and unlikable jackass known only as The Machine (Peter McDonald), someone that drives Fionnan up the wall.  Despite their best efforts to ditch him, Ruth gives him directions to where they’re meeting, so when he shows up and joins the ranks with the hearty expression, “Konnichiwa, fucksticks!” they all tremble at the thought of spending the weekend with the likes of him.  Nonetheless, using a broad range of crudeness and lewd jokes, with plenty of rude profanity, The Machine gets in the face of each and every one of them, creating a series of confrontations and awkward moments in the great outdoors.  When it turns out the guy is a psychopath with little concern for the regard for others, all they do is cower in response, becoming an outdoor trek with a bully and five “Hobbits,” as he likes to call them, anything to undermine their smug air of moral superiority.  The problem is how easily they can all be stereotyped, the groom, the best man, gay couple, the guy that hates U2 (considered the epitome of being anti-Irish), and the psychopath, where over the course of the next day or two, they all grate on each other’s nerves, rubbed raw by the constant irritating presence of The Machine (no explanation for how he picked up that name).  

Shot in Dublin, Wicklow, and Galway, the film has a chatty and combative back to nature theme with a couple of blundering fools creeping through the back country, where they’re constantly sniveling and whining about one thing or another, where the feeling is the tide has turned against them, led by the reckless acts of The Machine who undermines their every step with his own callous macho braggadocio, with none of them standing up to him, so it all grows tiresome after awhile, yet we’re stuck with them and their juvenile nonsense through the duration of the movie.  It’s a bit of an uncomfortable mess, but someone had the foresight to bring along some naturally grown ecstasy, taken one evening around the campfire, when the lads eventually break out into song.  It’s all pleasant enough mainstream entertainment until Davin blurts out the startling revelation that he’s always been in love with the girl his best friend is marrying, brilliantly expressed in his achingly heartfelt rendition of “On Raglan Road,” Luke Kelly Raglan Road - YouTube (4:17), a song also poignantly featured in Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges.  Out of endless mediocrity comes a moment of true inspiration, as it’s the first (and only) moment in the entire film that might actually fall into the realm of “human,” drawing the audience into his dilemma, where there is finally someone to care about.  The moment vanishes in an instant, however, as the boys tear off all their clothes and run blissfully naked through the woods searching for some lost lake that they can never find, instead getting lost and freezing their tails off under a bundle of leaves without so much as a hint of where they are.  By the time The Machine leads them all safely back home, like a Shakespearean Midsummer Night’s Dream spell, they’ve suddenly been recalibrated into new men, where all the petty grievances have been set aside, all the resentments gone, and they’ve somehow been wielded into responsible adults, where The Machine is no longer a blithering idiot spouting endless insults and profanity, but the glue that holds them all together, actually adding a touch of sweetness, taking a formulaic and well-worn buddy theme, throwing all manner of humiliation and contentious discord at them, finally bringing the curtain down with a rousing and unifying rendition of U2’s “One” U2 - One - YouTube (5:21) at the wedding ceremony.    

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