Kirk Jones made his directorial debut with a quaint little film called Waking Ned Devine back in 1998. Jones went on to direct Nanny McPhee and will direct his third picture in 2009, a comedy-adventure film starring Robert De Niro and Kate Beckinsale entitled Everybody’s Fine. With Waking Ned Devine, known purely as Waking Ned throughout the non-North American world, Jones shows his chops for creating diminutive human comedies.
The fictional village of Tullymore in Ireland is the milieu for this charming story of camaraderie and shenanigans. When word reaches Jackie O’Shea (Ian Bannen) and Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly) that someone in their minuscule village has won the Irish National Lottery, the cute-but-conniving duo sets out to find the winner with a variety of schemes, including a carefully prepared chicken dinner. After narrowing down the list of suspects, it is discovered that Ned Devine (Jimmy Keogh) is the winner.
One problem: Ned’s dead, baby.
Jackie is convinced in a dream that Ned would want to share the winnings with his friends, so he and Michael construct an intricate and often-hilarious scheme to fool the claim inspector (Adrian Robinson) and collect the money. The inspector indeed presents some minor problems, so Jackie and Michael must convince the entire village to go along with the plan so that the cash can be split between all 52 residents of Tullymore.
Waking Ned Devine is an amiable story and the performances are grand. The movie works because it captures the sense of small village life so truthfully. The local pub serves as the nucleus of activity, with lots of gossip and prying. The pleasant villagers watch out for one another, too, and the sense of community adds a touching element. Naturally, there is the village killjoy, Lizzie Quinn (Eileen Dromey), who wants to make things interesting, but she is dispatched in a way that conjures visions of the most enjoyable dark comedies.