Tullymore is a quiet, bucolic village in rural Ireland. The pub owner is also the banker and accountant; the grocery store doubles as the post office; whatever drama typically occupies the day is, by any other standards, decidedly mundane. It’s the perfect setting for a big event to disrupt the contented routines of its 52 residents in this week’s movie recommendation, Kirk Jones’ Waking Ned Devine (1998).

Jackie O’Shea and Michael O’Sullivan, played respectively by Ian Bannen (in one of his very last performances; see Keith’s review of The Hill for another of Bannen’s – much earlier and more solemn – creations) and David Kelly, are two of Tullymore’s septuagenarian mischief-makers. When they catch wind of the news that someone in the village has won last week’s lottery, they set about trying to learn the lucky beggar’s identity with the hopes of ingratiating themselves into the winner’s good graces and swelling purse.

In collaboration with Jackie’s wife Annie (played wonderfully by Fionnula Flanagan), they start spending money with the expectation of making money: they host dinner parties, they buy everyone’s round of stouts at the pub, and they disingenuously profess their lack of expectation of anything in return for their generosity. However, their efforts are to no avail, and the other villagers soon suspect Jackie and Michael of being the winners themselves.

It’s not long before the duo learns that Ned Devine, a fisherman with a fragile constitution, is the winner. But Ned’s fortune carried with it a cruel misfortune: he suffered a heart attack and died upon learning of his win. To ensure that Ned’s ticket does not go to waste, Jackie convinces Michael to impersonate Ned to ‘the man from the city’ inquiring about the veracity of the claimant to the winning ticket.

The rest of the film deals with the duo’s efforts to convince the rest of the village to go along with the plan. But someone’s been reading Mancur Olson, and the plan might not be implemented as easily as anticipated…

This isn’t the first independent Irish film I’ve reviewed here at RBC, and while this shares many of the same features that made The Guard fantastic, there are also notable differences. Waking Ned Devine is a low-budget character-driven comedy directed by someone who knows when to take a back seat and let the actors do the work. The cast meets the task ably: Bannen and Kelly both seem to revel just as much in the joy of playing their characters as do Jackie and Michael in the adventure that Devine’s fortune presents. Something about their age makes it seem as though they are less interested in the opportunity to spend large amounts of money – what on Earth would they spend it on anyway?, the other villagers frequently ask – than they are in the chance to have a bit of fun telling a lie.

Waking is also capable of deeply moving and bittersweet moments. The final scene is a touching eulogy to friends present and absent, and is followed by a perfectly irreverent, mood-lightening scene that works all the better with that characteristic Irish lyricism.

In Waking Ned Devine, you’ll find nudity, dream sequences, a whiffy and amorous pig farmer, folk music, an underdog story, beautiful scenery, and dammit a shred of justice. Aye, ‘tis a feel good film.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Johann Koehler

Johann Koehler is a doctoral student in the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. He tweets at @KoehlerJA.