Maudie is the unexpectedly charming drama about Maud Lewis, a simple minded woman living in Nova Scotia who gained fame in the art world for her child like paintings. Distringuished by strong performances and subtle direction, this has been one of the stand out arthouse performers over the North American summer.
When the film begins, Maud (Sally Hawkins) is living under the care of her aunt, for although Maud is in her 30s, she has trouble looking after herself. Physically she’s been affected by juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and mentally she readily concedes she isn’t the full quid.
When she discovers that her brother has sold the family home that she always assumed she’d be moving back to, she decides to answer an ad placed by a fisherman for a live-in housekeeper.
The fisherman, Everett (Ethan Hawke) is even more lacking in social skills than Maud. Together they make for an odd pair, he’s gruff, inconsiderate, even cruel towards Maud, but she’s never known much in the way of kindness or love, so she just accepts her lot with stoicism.
Once she’s settled in and cleaned up Everett’s tiny home, she starts doing little paintings on the walls and furniture. Her naive works of art attract the attention of a sophisticated New Yorker, Sandra (Kari Matchett) who’s on holiday and has become a regular buyer of Everett’s fish. Sandra is so taken with Maud’s art that she starts commissioning her work, which soon becomes a national sensation.
Maud’s unlikely success as an artist is the film’s main hook, but the real meat of the film is the tenuous bond between Maud and Everett. What starts as a not so pleasant boss/employee relationship, slowly blossoms into an uncovnetional marriage not altogether lacking in affection. It’s a partnership that at first seems even more improbable than Maud’s artistic achievements.
Of course, we’ve all seen the cliche of animosity thaw into a harmonious union, but that doesn’t mean we don’t fall for it. Watching the harshness fall away from a character is one of the great joys of cinema. Most of us want to be better people, to be more open and loving, so it’s natural that we love seeing characters have a similar transformation on screen.
It helps when you’re watching a performance as extraordinary as the one Sally Hawkins delivers as Maud. It’s her best work to date, and it especially hits you when you see footage of the real Maud at the end of the film.
Ethan Hawke is also excellent. We hear him before we see him, and the transformation in his voice is astounding. Strangely, considering he’s playing a crotchety old fisherman, he hasn’t looked this good in years. He’s way more handsome than the real Everett and he doesn’t age one jot as the years go by, in stark contrast to his wife. I was expecting to see his name in the credits as a producer to explain his refusal to deglam for the role.
The only other quibble with the film is that it feels like there is a natural place for it to end and then it keeps going for another 15 minutes. Otherwise, this is quite a beautiful film which deserves the resonance it’s enjoying with audiences.
Maudie is currently in national release
Richard Leathem @dickiegee