MAUDIE

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Aisling Walsh

Stars: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett, Gabrielle Rose, Zachary Bennett, Billy MacLennan, Lawrence Barry.

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Most biopics of artists depict them as troubled, flawed characters suffering for their art and dealing with their own obsessions and insecurities and personal demons. Maudie is no different as it gives us a touching portrait of Maude Lewis, who was born in Nova Scotia in 1905, and, despite suffering from a debilitating illness, became one of Canada’s most beloved folk artists.

Maude (played here by Sally Hawkins, from Blue Jasmine, Happy Go Lucky, etc) suffered from childhood rheumatoid arthritis which left her body crippled. After he brother Charles (Zachary Bennett) sells the family home and basically cuts her out of her share of the inheritance, Maude is forced to live with her stern and disapproving Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose). Maude answers an ad for a housekeeper which was posted on the bulletin board at the local grocery store. The ad was placed by Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), an emotionally stunted, taciturn, surly local fisherman who lived in a small shack on the outskirts of town. He was a loner and suspicious of strangers, He initially disliked Maude and her more optimistic disposition. But slowly a relationship developed between the two lonely outcasts. She moved into Everett’s small house, which had no electricity or running water. Everett was self-sufficient and apparently comfortable with his simple lifestyle.

At first, he delivers plenty of physical and emotional abuse early in their prickly relationship, but his rough exterior eventually softened and he became increasingly reliant on her. There seemed to be a tacit understanding between the pair. Maude took to painting flowers on the walls of the tiny house, and soon began painting small postcards and detailed pictures of natural scenes on small scrap pieces of wood. Sandra (Kari Matchett, from Covert Affairs, etc), a summer visitor to the area discovers Maude’s painting and champions her work back in New York. Soon her colourful paintings are in demand. Despite being uncomfortable with her paintings at first, Everett was quick to accept payment for Maude’s work and basked in her glory. Maude though was transformed, and found freedom through her painting.

Maude is a touching and moving portrait of an unusual romance that spans some forty years. It has been written by Sherry White (lots of tv work with Rookie Blue, etc, to her credit), and she has shaped the material into an engaging character study. She has also taken liberties with the story for dramatic purposes. The film has been directed in leisurely but sympathetic fashion by Irish filmmaker Aisling Walsh (The Daisy Chain, etc). Walsh trained as a painter before turning her hand to short films, and she brings an artist’s eye to the visual style of the film. It has been beautifully filmed on locations in Newfoundland by cinematographer Guy Godfree, who hails from a background in short films. He uses widescreen effectively to capture the striking beauty of the landscapes, giving us a good sense of location, but he also manages give the interior scenes a more intimate feel.

Technical credits are also excellent. Production designer John Hand has done a superb job of recreating Everett’s tiny, cramp 24-foot square little house. There is a folksy musical score from Michael Timmons, the Cowboy Junkies guitarist, which beautifully complements the visuals.

Over the end credits we see some actual footage of the real Maude and Everett. While Hawkins and Hawke bear little resemblance to their real-life counterparts they capture the essence and spirit of the characters. They deliver nuanced and sympathetic performances as this unlikely couple and bring a tenderness to their relationship. Hawkins delivers a career best performance in the role and is memorable as the downtrodden but resilient and determined Maude. She undergoes a remarkable physical transformation here, twisting her face and body, and her slouched frame conveys her pain and discomfort. The Academy should hand her the Oscar now.

This is also Hawke’s best work for quite some time and he captures Everett’s sullen nature with a largely internal and quiet performance. He tempers the rough edges of Everett’s personality, and makes him more sympathetic.
★★★

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