Ireland / Canada
Director: Aislinn Walsh
Runtime: 114 minutes
If there was an award for the most subtle show of inner strength and passive aggressive behavior put to a positive use it would have to be Sally Hawkins’ portrayal of Maud Lewis, the Canadian folk artist who came to some level of prominence during her lifetime and now is regarded as a national treasure. Hawkins benefits from a peripheral physical resemblance to the artist, but it’s the way she carries out the character where she shines. If you don’t know of Lewis’ history it won’t matter — Hawkins makes it come alive for you to see and does so with a delicacy of flower revealing itself slowly but surely. At the start of the movie proper, the prospects aren’t good and the cards seem stacked against Maud (who was born arthritic and has limited mobility) — her brother has sold her childhood home, leaving her behind with her aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose), a woman who seems to want even less to do with her than her brother.
By chance, Maud encounters an ad placed in a hardware store by Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), a fish peddler needing a full-time housekeeper to tend his house while he is away. More needing a place to stay than qualifications, Maud answers the ad, but Everett expresses an instant hostility towards her. However, her subtlety and meekness win Everett over who allows her to remain in the place as long as she keeps it minimally in order and has food at the ready. Maud complies, and also brings an added touch . . . her innate sense of art, which she begins to display in small, timid spots around the small house, but then in more visible areas. A neighbor who also buys fish from Everett notices her work, buys a painting for five dollars, and spreads the word. Soon, Maud has become a curiosity for passers-by, and her work grows in stature, while just as she’s getting a certain sense of comfort as Everett’s wife, she past comes calling to reveal some secrets.
Maudie is an ode to anyone who’s been treated badly either by illness or life itself. Here you have a woman who by definition would have been a forgotten failure living off the scraps left behind by society, and who through sheer guts and willpower wove her fabric into the world and left her own brand of beauty. Hawkins and Hawke fully complement each other — her surrender is really the strength that tames the beast-like character that Hawke plays — and her growth kick starts his own transformation into a loving man (not with some moments where wills clash and one awful scene of violence to make anyone cringe). I couldn’t find a single element that was wrong or missing in Aislinn Walsh’s film, and I felt that even as it ended, I would have wanted to see just a bit more of this immensely creative woman. [A]
Maudie has been playing since June 5th in NYC and can be seen at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.