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Waking Ned Devine

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Waking Ned Devine

Starring: Ian Bannen, David Kelly
Director: Kirk Jones
Rated: PG
RunTime: 91 Minutes
Release Date: November 1998
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Fionnula Flanagan, Susan Lynch, James Nesbitt

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Say what you want about living in a big urban center like New York: there's something about small-town life that's positively alluring, or at least it seems that way when you sit back in your comfortable cosmopolitan theater or screening room to soak in bucolic charm. You'd have to be a hard- hearted cynical urbanite not to relish "Waking Ned Devine," Kirk Jones's absolutely delightful fable about a town that's tiny even by the standards of a rural isle like Ireland. Few other films have ever rendered the beneficial effects of grand larceny like this one, and in fact we can see why the Irish would hesitate even to use the word "lie" to describe a falsehood. "Blarney" would be more to their fancy.

The frothy escapade opens in the minuscule village of Tullymore, pop. 52, as the major daily announces that someone in the hamlet had purchased the winning lotto ticket. Immediately Jackie O'Shea (Ian Bannen), a lifelong resident of Tullymore, and his best friend Michael O'Sullivan (David Kelly) concoct a plan to convince the lucky sod to share the wealth with the entire village. Since no one has yet come forward to claim the prize, Jackie and Michael take out a slip of paper and, ruling out Jackie's wife and themselves decide that there are 49 possible winners. Narrowing the list to the 18 who actually played the national raffle, they resolve to soften up the winner, whoever it might be, by inviting the entire community to a chicken dinner--an object lesson in the beauty of sharing. When one leg of chicken is left over, they realize that one of their number is absent from the festivities, Ned Devine (Jimmy Keogh), who they later discover is indeed the holder of the winning ticket and who has died from a heart attack upon hearing the news. Jackie, his wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan), and Michael go to work on a plan to convince their fellow citizens to testify falsely that Michael is, in fact, the unfortunate deceased, Ned Devine.

"Waking Ned Devine" is the sort of story that Frederic Duerrenmatt would have written if he had been infected by the spirit of a leprechaun. In that Swiss playwright's work, "The Visit," a fabulously wealthy woman bent on revenge offers to donate to the Mitteleuropan town of Gullen a tidy sum if its citizens would agree to murder a man who had once left her pregnant and abandoned her. In the hands of writer-director Kirk Jones, that basic plot becomes the inspiration for a dandy scheme to transfer big bucks to a lovely, isolated village rather than simply let it return to the national treasury to be reclaimed at a later time by someone who probably did not a great need for the punts.

The most exuberant scene takes place in the cottage of Ned Devine as Jackie and Michael go to work on the dead man (who is stiffly acted by Jimmy Keogh), giving the head the cosmetic makeover the poor man deserves for his involuntary posthumous contribution. When a bridge falls out of his mouth, they replace it gingerly, but not before mistaking the remains of a chicken led for Ned's own intestines. We are made privy to some of the conventions and heartaches of the local people, including a romance between Maggie (Susan Lynch) and the guy she loves, farmer Pig Finn (James Nesbitt) but cannot marry because the otherwise disarming fellow sports a perpetually porcine odor. Though Jim Kelly (Brendan F. Empsey), the lotto man who has driven in from Dublin to distribute the check for over 6 million pounds once he is convinced of the identity of the winner, insists that money changes people quite a bit, the word is that none of the 52 denizens are likely even to leave the village. "They'll spend all the money at Fitzgerald's" (the local pub), according to a young lad wise beyond his years.

Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau aside, how many Hollywood studios would have given over a movie to a bunch of old geezers such as the wonderful people who have lived their lives in the town they cherish, refusing the glitter or Dublin and London for the finer life of their tightly-knit community? "Waking Ned Devine," whose one irascible citizen, Lizzy Quinn (Eileen Dromey) threatens to subvert the entire plan by calling in the fraud, is a superbly crafted comedy that might just make you long to leave the antiseptic climate of your cosmopolitan hub for the cozy intimacy of a life in the provinces.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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