Reviewed by: Brian Nigro
Starring: Ian Bannen, David Kelly, Fionnula Flanagan, Susan Lynch, James Nesbitt, Maura O'Malley, Robert Hickey, Paddy Ward / Director: Kirk Jones
What if you didn’t win the lottery but someone you know did—but, then that person died from the excitement? That’s the basic premise of “Waking Ned Devine”, a small Irish movie that yields enough smiles and imagination to claim the title “feel-good movie”—the “feel-good” movie of the year, as a matter of fact, head and shoulders above anything Hollywood’s done this year.
The Lottery hits Tullymore, a small Irish town with an even smaller population, and Jackie O'Shea (IAN BANNEN) and his wife Annie (FIONULLA FLANAGAN) bask in the excitement to find the winner. Is it the pig farmer? Is it their next-door neighbor? Is it the crotchety old mean lady, or the storekeeper? Jackie and Annie proceed to host a dinner for the town, dropping subtle hints and innuendoes that might provoke someone to spill the beans. These first few scenes are as striking a commentary on human nature and proper Christian attitudes as anything else in 1998.
Annie grows concerned about Jackie’s plan to pursue the lottery winnings, so Jackie proceeds to scheme with Michael O'Sullivan (DAVID KELLY), a geriatric chain-smoker who provides the most jaw-dropping image in the entire film. (Which hereby serves as a warning to Christian parents considering taking their children, that both Jackie and Michael are shown skinny dipping, but the latter nudity is more envelope-pushing, done entirely for comic effect with no sexual suggestions.)
Less interesting about “Waking Ned Devine”—indeed, some viewers would agree pointless—is a subplot concerning two different locals competing for a single mom’s affection. There is nothing sleazy or suggestive here, but Jackie’s exploits for the lottery is by far more engaging and entertaining material.
There’s much talk in the “secular” press about how unknown the cast is, though foreign audiences (and American fans of imports) will recognize some of the faces. The town’s shop keeper, for instance, is played by Maura O'Malley, who had a small but pivotal role in “The Commitments”, the risque Irish movie from a few years ago. Fans of the BBC-TV’s “Faulty Towers” will recognize some of the cast.
Why the low Moral Rating for a “PG” movie? Because “Waking Ned Devine”, while more refreshing than Hollywood formula and not very sleazy, does contain enough profanity and non-sexual nudity to concern Christians audiences. There are no four-letter words, but the Lord’s name is dragged down repeatedly. Bottom line: For older teens and adults only.