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Daft, twee Devine

By Ray Pride

DECEMBER 14, 1998:  "Waking Ned Devine" is an odd charmer, at first a contrived bit of whimsy, yet ultimately winning for its clutch of brazen oldsters hamming it up in the central roles. Writer-director Kirk Jones had been directing commercials while tapping away at his story about a small Irish village and how it's effected after one of their own keels over before claiming a massive lottery win.

"Really, it was inspired by me going to the cinema a lot and being really disappointed by what I was seeing," the soft-spoken Jones says, "whatever country it was coming from. I had to see like twenty bad films to see one that I liked."

The lack, for him, was "Story, really story. I was addicted to creating a really strong structure. Also, interesting, eccentric characters." Some who haven't savored the glee of 70-ish actors like Ian Bannen and David Kelly (photo) murmuring daft, twee lines like "I'm using fruity soaps, Maggie," have found the film derivative, particularly of "Local Hero" and the great, eccentric Ealing comedies like "Whiskey Galore." "No, I didn't look back or watch movies like 'Local Hero,' but my sitting down to write was a reaction to be loving those kinds of films, and I wanted to write a film that I would really enjoy watching."

What qualities were lacking? "I think sometimes writers get quite lazy when they create their characters and often feel very boxed in by plot and I was keen to make the film feel quite real, so that the audience could relate to the genuine needs of the people in the village, amid their quirkiness and showing the rough edges we all have. Even in the subplots, I wanted the characters to stand out." And by using actors like David Kelly, who is shameless and wanton with every line and reaction shot that's lobbed his way, they do that and more. Jones had been given suggestions to make the leads younger, or to shift to America with the likes of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the leads, but he resisted, even going so far as to use behind-the-camera talent with decades of experience. "There are a lot of people who haven't been used for years and years," says the 34-year-old novice, "and I'm not sure why, because they have the most experience, nothing can faze them, and if you've lived a life, you can be the most charismatic actors. I suppose it all comes from studios, who see someone's over 50, 55, they don't want to think about getting old."

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