Waking Ned – A Surprisingly In-Depth Look at What Brings Joy in Life
Waking Ned is a delightful comedy that was released back in 1998 to great reviews. In the years since its release, it has built a reputation for being a great feel-good flick. In fact, Rugby Observer claims that it’s a good Christmas film because it pays tribute to family values, not to mention Irish culture like music and games.
Written and directed by Kirk Jones, Waking Ned tells the tale of long-time friends Jackie O’Shea and Michael O’Sulivan, who are portrayed by Ian Bannen and David Kelly, respectively. They learn that someone in their tiny village has won the Irish National Lottery, and discover that the winner is Ned Devine who died from shock after hearing the news. Conflicted by the situation, they opt to conceal Ned’s death from the lottery inspectors with help from the rest of the villagers. Cue the hilarity.
What’s interesting about Waking Ned’s comedy is how it draws the humour from the quirkiness of the characters’ personalities. It doesn’t deliver your usual gross-out gags or slapstick jokes. Jones’ dialogue indicates that all these villagers have a shared history with one another, ably assisted by the performances from the cast. They completely inhabit their roles with all their odd tics. It borders on stereotypical but that’s understandable since the script can only accommodate so many speaking parts.
What’s also enjoyable about this movie is how the “macguffin” is something grounded in reality. Jones’ direction really drives home the predicament that these characters find themselves in, making audiences asks themselves what they would do in a similar scenario. Is it wrong to take someone’s winnings when that person isn’t around anymore to claim it? It’s not just a simple prize either, as we’re talking about the Irish National Lottery here. The minimum jackpot is €2 million, and Lottoland specifies that the odds of hitting the jackpot are 1 in 10 million. It’s incredibly high compared to many other lotteries that have over a hundred million permutations. Over 2.2 million people who play this lottery are essentially competing for the jackpot. It’s a perfectly logical, and perhaps normal, reaction to hesitate on letting the money go to waste. A dream sequence conveniently helps the characters rationalise their actions, though the movie’s feel-good ending compensates for this plot contrivance.
Despite some dark humour, the best part about this film is how warmhearted it is, particularly the ending. Spoiler alert: The villagers succeed in their ruse and get to keep the jackpot to themselves. However, Jackie discovers that Ned has a son who’s eligible to inherit the money, but the mother keeps his parentage a secret so the village can enjoy its newfound wealth. It’s a heartfelt sacrifice that any viewer can relate to. We also get a sense that all the residents enjoy working together, fomenting some genuine community spirit that they all haven’t experienced in a while. The viewer can share in their excitement, rooting for them to succeed.
If you’ve never caught Waking Ned, we highly recommend that you do. Independent.ie rank it no. 5 in their Top 50 must-see Irish films. It’s easy to see why with the film’s easy going pace and charming quirkiness.
Thanks for reading.