Waking Ned Devine – 4 Stars (Excellent)
Sooner or later one has to come clean. When pigeonholed about what is my favorite comedy, I said some time ago that “Meet the Fockers” was the best comedy I had seen in a long time. What I did not say was what is the best comedy I have ever seen. So let me say it here and now: as of Thursday, March 29, 2012 the best comedy I have ever seen is “Waking Ned Devine” and it is not even a close call.
It would be easy to throw around a bunch of adjectives like outstanding, fantastic, remarkable, extraordinary, superb or phenomenal but why bother when you can say this: there are not another five writer/directors in America that are better than Kirk Jones and his creation.
In crafting Waking Ned Devine Kirk Jones has done what dozens of his peers have not done on their best day, and that is both write and direct a film worthy of being called the best. Let me not be shy or just throw out words to fill up space.
Let me name some writer/directors whose effort in a dual role bred more failure than success: They include Kimberly Peirce (terrible rating) for Boys Don’t Cry, Vanessa Parise (average rating) for Kiss the Bride, Peter Weir (average rating) for Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World, Nancy Myers (average rating) for Something’s Gotta Give, Thomas Bezucha (average rating) for The Family Stone, Michael McGowan (average rating) for Saint Ralph, Jared Hess (terrible rating) for Napoleon Dynamite, Robert Rodriguez (terrible rating) for Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and Paul Thomas Anderson (terrible rating) for Punch-Drunk Love.
The worst of these efforts was Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love.
There is no question that all of these wannabe writer/directors probably worked their butt off trying to win an Academy Award for their effort, and I do not mean to discredit their time and effort, just their result. Hopefully, they will learn from experience and get better.
Kirk Jones is almost unique because this was his first effort at being a writer/director. He was in very dangerous territory but talent, judgment and sensibility can overcome a lot of mistakes. I would put Kirk Jones in the same incredible class of writer/directors as Tim McCanlies in Secondhand Lions. Both Jones and McCanlies are great writers-not-yet-discovered who become artists painting a masterpiece when directing. Waking Ned Devine is set in Ireland but filmed on the Isle of Man, an island in the Irish Sea that is a British crown possession with home rule.
The Narrator for the film (Paul Vaughan) sets the stage for the film with this great observation: “Saturday evening, and the world is much the same as at any other point in the history of the world. The planets and stars orbit and spin, and do everything that is expected of them. On Earth, as the sun sets, millions prepare for an event that is much less predictable.
“In 63 countries around the world, dozens of lottery machines spin hundreds of lottery balls. It takes seconds for the winning numbers to be selected . . .seconds for the losers to realize that they have lost. But for the winners, it is an event that will undoubtedly change their lives forever . . . lucky sods!”
In the tiny Irish village of Tullymore two best friends—Jackie O’Shea (Ian Bannen) and Michael O’Sullivan (David Kelly)—discover that someone among them has won the Irish lottery, and they go to great lengths to find the winner.
After concocting an elaborate chicken-dinner ploy that fails to rat out the winner, they plough through a horrific rainstorm to call on the only person to not attend the dinner.
When they find the elderly Ned Devine with the winning ticket is in his hand he is dead. Imagine Ned Devine at his moment of triumph. He survived endless storms upon the sea as a fisherman but ends up dying of shock in his lazy boy upon discovering his good fortune. Jackie O’Shea, being the good Irishman he is, does not want the money to go to waste and convinces his reluctant friend Michael O’Sullivan to go along with his plan. You simply must see what happens when these two pikers get about the business of dealing with Ned Devine’s body.
Jackie’s wife Annie (Fionnula Flanagan) is beside herself when she learns of Jackie’s plan, upbraiding Jackie for his dishonesty and fearing that both of them will end up in jail. Jackie, being the creative Irishman he is, lets Annie know that he has had a dream that the deceased Ned would want to share his winnings with him.
When Jackie and Michael were skinny-dipping in the sea, they bump into the claims inspector as he is coming to interview Ned Devine to settle the claim ticket. Jackie takes the claims inspector on a wild goose chase while trying to find “Ned’s” house, and Michael is left to jump on a moped naked and make a mad dash back to the house before the inspector arrives.
Earlier, when Jackie’s wife Annie learns he has put Michael up for the part of Ned Devine, she reminds him that “he’s never told a lie in his life.” “Well,” replies Jackie, “he’s making up for it now.”
Michael, nervous as a cat, does pull it off, and the inspector lets Michael know that his payout will be almost $6.9 million Irish pounds. If you can only see one other comedy bit ever, see Michael O’Sullivan, buck naked, riding that moped like a man possessed. It is beyond comedy, it will be legend for those in the know. Only when Jackie discovers that the winning ticket is worth $6.9 million Irish pounds does he realize how out of the control the situation has become, and that the entire village will have to become involved to pull off a deception of this magnitude.
Every villager to a person agrees with the plan except for Lizzy Quinn (Eileen Dromey), a cantankerous, wheelchair-bound, b-class whiner who holds out for a hefty 10% take with a threat that she will spill the beans.
When pushed Lizzy (I hope my memory serves me right in thinking this is the right character) makes good on her promise, and wheels herself up the road to the pay phone by the cliff. Fortunately for the villagers, Lizzy dies when the lottery claim inspector’s car spins out of control and forces an oncoming van to crash into the phone booth, sending Lizzy over the cliff before she can report the fraud.
The claims inspector shows up in the middle of the funeral with the $6.9 million pound check for Ned Devine, sending all of the attending villagers into a state of emotional and mental panic.
Jackie O’Shea who is delivering the eulogy slides into some instant Irish resourcefulness with this brilliant piece of oratory: “Michael O’Sullivan was my great friend. But I don’t ever remembering telling him that. The words that are spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man who is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be to visit your own funeral. To sit at the front and hear what was said, maybe say a few things yourself.
“Michael and I grew old together. But at times, when we laughed, we grew young. If he was here now, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, and thank him for being a friend.”
Waking Ned Devine is both one of the best comedies ever made and a classic study in relationships, not just among friends and families but among a small community as well. Kirk Jones has given this story heart, risk, honor, integrity, unity, romance, love, tolerance, chicanery and Irish whiskey all rolled into a masterpiece of storytelling.
Waking Ned Devine is the funniest film I have ever seen. Because Ned Devine is a comedy and also a story about relationships among common people, this, as much as anything, gives it such solid goodness despite the deception. I mean really, who wants to give $6.9 million Irish pounds back to the government when it really belongs to the people?
There are other subplots in Waking Ned Devine too good to detail here.
We learn of the romance between Maggie O’Toole (Susan Lynch) and Pig Finn (James Nesbitt), a pig farmer Maggie would like to marry if she did not have to smell him. We learn that Maggie has a son, and Pig Finn wonders if he is the father. We learn that the real father is none other than Ned Devine, and that the son is rightfully due the entire $6.9 million pounds as the legal heir. Maggie, thankfully, realizes that a rising tide lifts all ships to a better place.
Waking Ned Devine ends with Jackie O’Shea, Michael O’Sullivan, Maggie’s boy and Pig Finn all raising a toast to Ned Devine while standing on a cliff overlooking the sea. A better comedy I may not see in my lifetime.
Sadly, recognition for Kirk Jones, the cast, outstanding casting by John and Ros Hubbard, and cinematography by Henry Braham all go without their proper due. To prove there is some small measure of justice in the world, the budget for Waking Ned Devine was estimated at $3 million and this independent film has generated at least $43 million worldwide and the video is still raking in more bucks.
There are 6.9 million reasons to see Waking Ned Devine, but here is the best one: Kirk Jones. I raise a second toast of Jameson’s to Kirk Jones’ effort. I may only be 15% Irish, but it is the best 15% of me. I am a better person for having seen Waking Ned Devine.