By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Until watching this movie, I had not heard of the artist Maud Lewis, nor was I aware of her story. Now that I have learned about her, I feel grateful for the opportunity to review this fascinating and compelling biopic. Maudie details the adult life of the humble Canadian artist who painted simply for the joy of it, but eventually caught the attention of her nation and later the world. From her tiny, rustic home in Nova Scotia, Maud painted pictures which reflected the land around her and the beauty she witnessed in her simple, but mostly content life. Written by Sherry White and directed by Aisling Walsh, the movie tells the straightforward, but inspiring story of an artist who relished in the simple pleasures of life.
Sally Hawkins stars as the titular Maud Lewis. The film begins during Maudie’s late twenties or early to mid thirties, a time when the chronically arthritic woman lives with her Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose). Lonely and longing for more freedom and a life away from her strict aunt, Maudie sees an opportunity to move away when the local grumpy, but single fish peddler Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) begins seeking a housekeeper for his humble home. Maud begins working for the gruff and sometimes abusive Everett, but eventually the two begin to have feelings for one another. They eventually marry and continue about their simple life together. Things begin to change as Maud’s paintings begin to garner attention and praise and becomes another source of income for the rustic couple.
With Maudie, director Aisling Walsh keeps her presentation appropriately simple, but focused on the main characters and allows them to tell their story through their actions and emotions. Screenwriter Sherry White tells a story of female empowerment during a time when it was in shorter supply. White and Walsh take special care in developing their lead characters well, with a focus on the conventions of the eras and how Maud did what she could to overcome them. Through Maud’s empowerment, the character of Everett Lewis grows as a less abusive and more caring husband. His character starts out as a mean, often hateful boss/spouse, but one who eventually learns to love and appreciate how special Maud really is. It is not only an inspiring story, but one that becomes very endearing and poignant when it concludes.
The filmmakers could not accomplish this without the superb performances by both Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke. Hawkins delivers what might be her finest performance of her career so far. She portrays Maud as a sweet, timid and soft spoken lady who, despite her disability, does the best that she can to get through life and do what makes her happy. Though she comes across as timid, Hawkins gives Maud an inner strength that keeps her undaunted and determined to create her art on her own terms. Hawkins and Hawke share a perfectly awkward “chemistry” in the film. I put the word chemistry in quotes, because it isn’t the usual type that audiences come to expect in movie relationships, but one that is absolutely perfect for these socially awkward characters. Hawke delivers a performance that captures fire and lightning in a bottle. Everett Lewis is portrayed as an angry, sometimes bitter man who loses his fiery temper every so often, but one that wants to love and be loved. Hawke perfectly portrays that inner pain and turmoil that Everett has and the frustration when he has trouble expressing himself.
And though this film obviously is not the usual summer fare that people seek out right now, I still highly recommend it. People familiar with Maud Lewis’s work should enjoy and appreciate this insightful glimpse into the life of the distinctive artist. People who have never even heard of her should also be pleasantly surprised as I was. Maud’s story is not only one of female empowerment, but also an inspirational story for those living with a disability who feel that they cannot accomplish their dreams, goals, or desires. Maud’s dreams and goals may have been rather simple, but she lived and worked in ways that made her content and happy.