Films about artists present their own unique challenges. Even if the subject has an interesting life away from the canvas, how does one capture the creative process in such a way that creates dramatic tension?
Those obstacles are overcome beautifully in “Maudie,” the story of beloved Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis who was crippled by arthritis at a young age. The film opens with Maud, played by Sally Hawkins, finding out that her brother has just sold her home out from under her.
Although she is soft-spoken, Maud is bright and spirited. When local fishmonger Everett Lewis comes into the general store one day to post a sign looking for a housemaid, Maud pockets the sign and shows up at his door to apply. He is wary of her handicap; she tells him that she was born that way and can do anything anyone else can do. Once she decides that she and Everett would be good for each other, he doesn’t stand a chance.
But “Maudie” is much more than an age-old tale of the love of a good woman changing a man. The more compelling transformation onscreen is how Maud’s growth as an artist changes her.
Everett’s tiny (even by HGTV standards) house is so dark and musty, you can almost feel it in the theater. But over time, the house’s marvelous transformation mirrors Maud’s. She first paints a primitive, colorful tiny flower on the wall. When Everett does not object, she keeps painting; she is discovered when she paints on a fish receipt.
Hawkins was delightful in 2008’s “Happy-Go-Lucky” and was nominated for an Oscar for her role in “Blue Jasmine.” If there is any justice, she should be nominated again. Before our eyes, we see Maud grow in confidence while her body begins to fail her from arthritis and emphysema caused by a lifetime of smoking. Hawkins is extraordinary both physically and emotionally and her final scenes are heartbreaking.
Ethan Hawke also is impressive as Everett, looking stockier and more weathered than the wiry, grungy characters he often portrays. Everett is gruff but layered, clearly unsettled by this odd woman who has invaded his home and life.
Irish director Aisling Walsh gives us an inspiring but not whitewashed story, aided greatly by her cinematographer. Guy Godfree was born in Nova Scotia and beautifully captures Maud’s vision –literally and figuratively – as he frames the views out her window or in the breathtaking beauty of Canada: “The whole of my life, already framed, right there.”
“Maudie” works as an unconventional love story that reminds the audience about the importance of looking beyond appearances. It's also a testament to the transformative power of art. As Maud puts it: “As long as I have a brush in front of me, I’m alright.”
3.5 stars (out of 4)
Sally Hawkins stars as Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis who falls in love with a fishmonger (Ethan Hawke) while working for him as a live-in housekeeper. 115 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some thematic content and brief sexuality.