3.5 / 5 stars
When you think about bachelor parties in the movies, what comes to mind? Probably nights of raucous ribaldry, drink-drenched weekends with anonymous babes, the groom trapped on a hotel roof, maybe an unintended homicide. Well, times and masculinity have changed according to The Bachelor Weekend, first-timer John Butler’s irresistible Irish comedy, which just premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Here, we get the antithesis to the standard bad-boy blowout: Meticulous groom Fionnan (Hugh O’Conor) doesn’t even want a “stag” party until a few friends convince him to join them for a nice quiet weekend of hiking and camping in the Irish countryside. A breath of fresh pre-nuptial air, literally and figuratively. (Click on the movie poster for a closer look.)
Enter the brother-in-law to be, a raging party animal known only as The Machine (Peter McDonald, the film’s co-writer). Butler and McDonald know that for The Machine to really work, we shouldn’t see him through most of the movie’s first act – so we get a guy whose reputation (and bizarre, unexplained name) precedes him, lending a mischievously ominous feel to a generally friendly tone.
The Machine’s entrance – he barrels into a country pub where the fellas are having a nightcap – is a party-crashing nightmare, Butler balancing small, awkward humor with flat-out manly intimidation. As The Machine, McDonald is a master of dialogue, spewing insults, orders and stag protocol with a rhythm that’s both instantly quotable and a little frightening.
But The Machine is game for the boys’ plans, and takes over the first day’s hike like he’s Burt Reynolds in Deliverance. His stag mates are practically Darwin-ed into submission, following along for fear of being seen as chicken or, worse, being left behind. But we’re quickly drawn to the Machine, if not for his willingness to acquiesce to the groom-to-be’s plans, then for his passionate defense of U2 songs as a source of emotional center.
Butler pays off our initial thoughts about the aggressive antagonist, crafting him as a decisive, tolerant man with his own pains and a sharp sense of humor. He may illegally hop fences and taunt bulls, but The Machine has a need for these guys, and they soon have a need for him. He’s a clear-headed motivator and arbiter, in a society that’s moved past the forced male bonding of primal screaming and drum circles.
Regardless, Butler and McDonald can’t help but trap their cast naked in the woods, with two lifelong friends dealing with angry, life-changing revelations. These are good, refreshing character developments, with honest emotion and plenty of simple visual humor. Andrew Scott, best known as Moriarty in the TV series Sherlock, is outstanding as the best man, a soft college professor who gets reamed by The Machine early in the film and pours out his heart later. Scott knows just how to turn the dials, just when it counts.
Butler clearly makes the most of his environments on a low budget; it works great when the production is out in the fields, but falls apart at an interior wedding sequence, but the effort feels right. The Bachelor Weekend ends up a little too in love with its own camaraderie and romance, dragging the final few scenes, but on the balance, that’s okay. There’s enough here to fall for.