Maudie

maudie-rev Maudie  (2017)    Sony Pictures Classics/Drama    RT: 116 minutes    Rated PG-13 (some thematic content, brief sexuality)    Director: Aisling Walsh    Screenplay: Sherry White    Music: Michael Timmins    Cinematography: Guy Godfree    Release date: June 30, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett, Zachary Bennett, Gabrielle Rose, Billy MacLellan, Marthe Bernard, Lawrence Barry, David Feehan, Greg Malone.

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 Some stories are so incredible, they have to be true. Surely nobody could make up a story as incredible as Maudie, a gorgeous biopic of prominent Canadian artist Maud Lewis who painted beautiful outdoor scenes on cards and discarded boards despite having rheumatoid arthritis. The film, directed by Aisling Walsh (the 2015 TV movie An Inspector Calls), focuses mainly on Maud’s relationship with Everett Lewis, the gruff, brutish, illiterate fish peddler who would become her husband. Their relationship wasn’t what you’d call conventional. In fact, their living arrangements were downright scandalous for the time. They lived together in a one-room shack and shared a bed despite not being married or even attracted to each other. This earned poor childlike Maud the disdain of the locals in the small Nova Scotia town she lived in all her life but her art earned her the affection of people all over the world.

maudie It’s no wonder Maud (Hawkins, Blue Jasmine) is childlike; everybody treats her like a child, especially her family who see her as a burden, that family member who must be taken care of because she’s incapable of taking care of herself. As the movie opens (in the 30s), she lives with her Aunt Ida (Rose, A Dog’s Purpose) who disapproves of her drinking and dancing to jazz at a local nightclub. Her brother Charles (Bennett, Cube Zero) has just sold their mother’s house without telling her. Having lived there all her life, it comes as a real blow to Maud. Determined to prove she can take care of herself, she answers an ad for a cleaning lady at the local store. The ad was placed by Everett (Hawke, Boyhood), a barely articulate man who wants somebody to cook and clean for him, nothing more. He doesn’t like anybody much including Maud to whom he makes clear her position in the household (lower than the dogs and chickens). It’s not an ideal situation but she finds comfort in painting flowers on the walls and windows, an activity Everett begrudgingly allows.

 It turns out Maud is actually kind of smart and helps Everett get his accounts in order. One of his customers, New Yorker Sandra (Matchett, Cube 2), likes the cards that Maud paints so much, she offers to pay money for them. Later, she commissions a larger painting for $6- $5 for the painting plus $1 for postage, a deal Maud negotiated. Her paintings become famous, even VP Nixon asks to purchase one. She and Everett even appear on the local news which brings in more customers.

 Realizing how it looks to outsiders, Maud keeps urging Everett to marry her. What they have between them doesn’t fit any conventional definition of love but there is a form of love there despite the cruelty he sometimes displays towards her. Also, Maud is traumatized by a past tragedy. Years earlier, she had a baby out of wedlock that she was told was deformed and died. Yeah, this is something that will come up again later in the movie.

 Every film has that one thing that is its greatest strength. In Maudie, it is the performances of the two leads. Hawkins and Hawke don’t just play Maud and Everett, they become them. Their performances are transformative. Hawkins adopts a posture that suggests stunted growth. Her gait suggests somebody that’s definitely afflicted with something. The way she carries herself throughout the movie betrays the emotional abuse she’s endured all her life. This is a severely damaged woman; the last person she should get involved with is a mean, ornery bastard like Everett. He is the epitome of the term “antisocial”. Hawke disappears into the role, grunting and grumbling his way through a life of self-made misery. The thing about Everett is that his bark is worse than his bite; he may be disagreeable when somebody asks something of him but he’ll do it. Beneath his rough exterior, there’s a decent, loving man waiting to come out.

 The cinematography by Guy Godfree is beautiful. He makes great use of the natural locations in Ireland and Newfoundland (where the film was actually shot). The landscapes are a perfect background for a story of such emotional intensity. It’s sad but never mawkish. It’s also happy in its own way. Late in the game, Aunt Ida tells her niece that she’s the only one in their family that found happiness. In Everett, she found love even if he can’t show it in a traditional way. Maudie, in its own way, is an extraordinary film. It moves slowly but a movie like this doesn’t need to go a mile-a-minute. It’s not a zero-to-sixty summer flick. In fact, it’s most unlike any summer movie now playing. Scratch that. It’s a completely unique film. It won’t catch on with mainstream audiences but if you want to see a film that doesn’t involve superheroes, giant alien robots and Minions, Maudie is the one to see. 

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