A group of men, one pre-wedding weekend, and the Irish countryside: What could go wrong? The Bachelor Weekend plays as expected: Characters must start close, bond during their trip, have their friendship momentarily threatened, then cathartically make up right on schedule.
Top billing wrongly goes to Andrew Scott as finicky anti-romantic Davin, whose longest relationship lasted six months; he regards purple gums or constant humming as a sufficient pretext to sever all contact with a partner. Hugh O’Conor is groom Fionnan, who harangues Davin for his lack of tolerance, warning him he’ll end up alone and miserable. These recurring lectures on the importance of coupledom are as severe as any rom-com that implicitly chastises women who don’t want to give up their jobs and settle down immediately; it’s a dubious form of gender parity. Despite their differences, the two are plausible best friends; their friendship is never really in jeopardy, outside of about five minutes in the second act.
To get Fionnan to stop fussing over the wedding arrangements, bride-to-be Ruth (Amy Huberman) convinces Davin to organize a weekend of hiking and manly camaraderie. But Ruth also insists her brother be invited. Enter co-writer Peter McDonald as The Machine, whose nickname says it all. Entering with a hearty “Konnichiwa, fucksticks!,” The Machine is unbearably hyper-masculine, out for a rowdy good time and ready to pummel others into submission. Mild chaos ensues.
As initially presented, The Machine’s character is a minor stroke of reversal-of-expectations genius. Pulling random “funny” accents and voices, ceaselessly calling Davin et al. “hobbits” (because tramping through the countryside is an automatic excuse for repeated unimaginative references), the shouty Machine should theoretically be hilarious, especially when set in relief against quieter, naturalistic performances: This is the kind of belligerent screamer Will Ferrell plays in his sleep. But, as if standing in for weary audience members fed up with Brat Pack yelling, everyone’s appalled and decidedly unamused by The Machine’s tired schtick. Inevitably and unfortunately, he’s revealed to be a nice fellow possessing hidden depths, a characterization that simply demands that McDonald knock off the reflexive gay slurs, accents, and general obnoxiousness. The implausible gear-shift is indicative of a greater softening necessary to get from naked men running through the woods to a final wedding sequence of reconciliation and good vibes.
The Machine is the show, though the narrative periphery has some shoehorned-in tangents: Fionnan must stand up against his out-of-date homophobic dad and insist that his gay brother’s partner be allowed to attend the wedding, while pal Simon (Brian Gleeson, a dead ringer for dad Brendan) has an extensively leveraged business, with 250,000 Euros in debt and no rescue strategy. This last dilemma ties in to The Machine’s unexpected closing speech, a last-minute grab for greater resonance: After noting the Irish recession and difficulties with the church, he concludes, “We’re Ireland, and that, my friends, is deadly.” The national self-image pep talk, followed immediately by an impassioned rendition of U2’s “With Or Without You,” comes out of nowhere, a final attempt to get this innocuous time-killer to a more urgent register.