movie review by
Crissa-Jean Chappell

Waking Ned Devine

 

(©1998 Fox Searchlight Pictures. All rights reserved.)

Studio
Web site:
FOX SEARCHLIGHT

Movie
Web site:
WAKING NED DEVINE

A string of candy-colored ping-pong balls floating in space. Thatís how the sleepy villagers of Tully More see the universeóespecially on Sunday nights, tucked in with tea and apple tart, when the lottery gods smile down on some poor sot. The telly declares Ned Devine the anointed one. With ticket in hand and a mile-wide smile etched permanently on his rubbery lips, this newly made millionaire takes in the news, breathes a last breath, and then departs for Paradise.

At first, Jackie OíShea (Ian Bannen) and his equally-elderly comrade Michael O'Sullivan (David Kelly of Fawlty Towers fame) plan on keeping the good news to themselves. To collect the £6,894,620 prize winnings, Michael will pose as Ned when the Lotto Man comes looking for the lucky winner. However, soon the entire village become participants in the deception.

The oddball cast of Waking Ned Devine includes the typical village staples: the star-crossed lovers (James Nesbitt as the pig-farmer with a penchant for fruity soaps and the curly-haired lass Susan Lynch, who might be the mother of his son); Fionnula Flanagan as Jackieís disapproving better half; and Eileen Dromey as a wheelchair-bound witch who says sheíll cooperate to the tune of a cool million. What will happen when these simple people collect the cash? In what ways will their peaceful lives change (for better or worse) and will they learn from it? The film doesnít answer these questions. Itís more concerned with the winking shenanigans of its best weapon, an unstoppable pair of hustlers named Michael and Jackie. The scene-stealing actors (almost 70 years young) seem stuck in a perpetual state of arrested adolescence. Itís easy to imagine them as wandering hobos in an absurdist play by Beckettóone with his head in the clouds, the other devilish and down to earth. In one of the movie's funniest scenes, Michael and Jackie are skinny-dipping when the Lotto Man arrives and a nearly-nude Michael plops his leathery backside on a motorbike and races back to Nedís seaside cottage.

This isnít cerebral fare, nor is it the sterner stuff we expect from made-in-the-UK comedies. This is far-flung escapism, thick on blarney, thin on senseóa true end-of-season sleeper thatís sure to entertain. First-time writer-director Kirk Jones (his background being rock videos and prize-winning commercials like the Absolut Vodka campaign) cribs from the classic 1940s and early Ď50s comedies of Londonís Ealing Studio (that featured well-mannered, class-conscious films such as The Lavender Hill Mob). As usual, a gang of misfits must band together to fight an uppercrust adversary. Itís strange that the witch (the most eccentric character of all) plays scapegoat to the townís cookie-cutter mentality. To outsiders, the villagers behave oddly. With each other, they expect conformity. Lovers normally decree unconditional affection. In this case, the girl wonít marry unless the pigs are gone (she claims itís the smell but we know better). Money is the sweetest perfume.

Because the villagers live in a too-green, fairy-tale Ireland that could pass for misty Brigadoon (shot for tax break reasons on the government-owned historical site of The Isle of Man) we wonder what happiness cold pounds could bring (that the villagers donít already possess). Maybe thatís why Ned passed away with a grin of Cheshire proportions. He knew, "Itís not who wins or loses." Itís who collects the cash.


[rating: 2½ of 4 stars]