From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Kiss Me, I'm Irish Week
Waking Ned Devine

For many people, it's a popular subject of daydreams to wonder what you would do with your life if you won the lottery. Coming into a large sum of money can open new doors for a person, create new opportunities. It can change a person completely. Sometimes for the better, other times not. In the case of the first film we look back on for Irish week, it turns someone into a completely different person. Literally.

In Waking Ned Devine, we meet Jackie O'Shea (Ian Bannen) and Michael O'Sullivan (David Kelly). Jackie and Michael live in the small Irish town of Tullymore. Both gentlemen have seen a number of years in their lives. They are longtime friends. Like most folks, they are getting by. Maybe not as comfortable as they'd like to be, but they manage. Jackie has a wonderful wife named Annie (Fionnula Flanagan) with whom he's enjoying his golden years. Life is pretty good.

Things take an unexpected change though, when Jackie learns that someone in their small town has recently won the lottery. Only he, Annie, and Michael know that one of the 53 villagers is the new possessor of a large sum of money. The three of them work like the devil trying to figure out who the winner is, that they might become best friends when the time comes to cash the check.

Might it be Pig Finn (James Nesbitt), the local pig farmer? Or perhaps Maggie O'Toole (Susan Lynch), Finn's true love? Maggie often has said that she'd marry Finn tomorrow, if it weren't for the pigs (or rather, their stench). Perhaps Mrs. Kennedy, who runs the post office? Or the foul tempered Lizzy Quinn, who seems to be on everyone's last nerve?

After some comic sleuthing, Jackie comes to find that the winner of the big prize is the former fisherman Ned Devine. Jackie would be more than happy to help Ned spend the money were it not for one little problem...Ned's dead from the shock of winning. With Ned having signed his ticket before the drawing, there's no one to claim the winnings, as Ned has no family. The money would appear to be going to waste. Or would it?

The affair of claiming the money becomes the heart of the story, as everyone in the small town would have good use for some part of the winnings. And it's in getting to the end of the story that English screenwriter and director Kirk Jones takes the viewer on a ride that is delightful, as well as a damn bit funny.

I absolutely adore this movie. It's one of those film watching experiences that can't help but brighten my day no matter what may have gone before for me. The acting performances are all very solid and worlds of fun. As you watch Jackie and Michael try to work out the logistics of getting the winnings, you can't help but find yourself rooting for them to make it all work out. Maggie and Finn's awkward courting also has a lot of appeal. Finn is a genuinely good guy. You like him just because he keeps trying to win the fair lady's heart, despite the handicaps that he knows he has that stand in his way. And you see enough of the townspeople's reactions to him to know that he's a fair person to know. Provided you're upwind.

Jones also does a magnificent job of pulling you into the story, and never lets it jump the tracks. In some other writers hands, the movie could have easily degenerated into black comedy, or some level of crude humor. But the film always manages to stay light, fun, and full of really contagious energy. And he throws a few twists along the way that always keep you guessing as to whether you really know how things are going to turn out. As a first time film director (his previous work consisted of TV ads for Absolut Vodka), Jones shows an incredible amount potential talent with his first go at a feature. Amazingly, he hasn't put another film out since. He is in pre-production on Emma Thompson's second screenplay, and her first script since she wrote her adaptation of Sense and Sensibility for Ang Lee in 1995. So there is something to look forward to for later this year.

If you need something to brighten your day and put a smile on your face, you really should check the film out. Pop it into the DVD player or VCR, pull yourself a pint or a wee jar, and enjoy the show. And make sure to raise a glass to Ned Devine. The most generous man in death you could ever want to know. Slainte!

Miller's Crossing