Another older, worthy film returns to the area with Kirk Jones’ Waking Ned Devine, a genial, critically acclaimed comedy of the “old school.” In terms of both plot and characterization, not to mention execution, this gentle, quirky movie is cut from the same cloth as such venerable Ealing comedies as A Run for Your Money and Tight Little Island.
Viewers not familiar with those established classics are more likely to think of more recent efforts, such as The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain, Billy Elliot or The Full Monty. Indeed, Waking Ned Devine is often regarded as an attempt by the British film industry to recapture the runaway success of those movies. All of them, however, have their roots in the Ealing films, and Waking Ned Devine might come closest to the real deal.
It’s not an uproarious comedy, but a cheerfully giddy one. This is a movie that fits in quite nicely with the Ealings, apart from some humorous (and elderly) male rear nudity (although rear nudity — male and female — was acceptable for comedic purposes in Britain as early as 1959), a bit of black humor and a slightly skewed sense of morality.
The premise is clever. Ned Devine (Keogh), resident of the small Irish village of Tullymore (played here by the Isle of Man), has died of shock at winning approximately seven million pounds in the National Lottery. Rather than see the ticket go to waste, his friend, Jackie O’Shea (Bannen), coerces his friend, Michael O’Sullivan (Kelly), into posing as Ned and hoodwinking the lottery people. Of course, this results in all manner of complications of the sort you might expect.
Some critics have complained that it’s all a bit calculated, and not in the least because writer/director Kirk Jones had previously only made TV commercials. And maybe it is, but it’s calculated in just the right way. This movie is sweet, gentle in most of its humor, but also has just enough edge and bite to keep it from being gaggingly gooey.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke