Old people, like young children, can be charming movie subjects — until they begin to believe reports of their own cuteness: Then they become the Olsen twins or the rapping granny in The Wedding Singer. The grand pleasure of Waking Ned Devine, a snappy, sunny Irish comedy from writer-director Kirk Jones set in a wee hamlet temperamentally related to the population of Local Hero and the blithe 1949 comedy Tight Little Island, is that the aging community at the center of the hilarity behaves with dignity — or at least dignity as defined in Glocca Morra.
Jones has said he got the notion for his first feature film from a newspaper story he read about the postmistress of a tiny town who struck lottery gold. In Ned, residents are in a tizzy because someone has won a fortune, but no one has come forward to claim it — despite the best investigative efforts of pensioners Jackie O’Shea and Michael O’Sullivan (Ian Bannen and David Kelly). And then, when they do finally track down the winner, old Ned Devine, they discover (I promise you, I’m not spoiling anything) — he’s dead, done in by shock, still clutching the prize ticket in his stiff mitt.
What happens afterward in this nutty lark (shot with affection on the beautiful Isle of Man), as Jackie and Michael try to hang on to their dream of millions, unfolds with such unforced inevitability that absurdity never condescends to sticky adorableness. Vigilant against sugar rot, long-lasting character actors Bannen (Braveheart) and Kelly (best known here from TV’s Fawlty Towers) maintain aplomb even when buck naked (for which, I’m betting, Fox Searchlight is going to try pushing this, wrongly, as another Full Monty). But they’re helped, too, by a supporting cast who briskly go about the business of playing a stinky pig farmer, a lovelorn single mother, a hapless lottery official, even the village spoilsport, without ever succumbing to that widespread movie affliction Irish Twinkle. A-