Maudie, Aisling Walsh’s biopic of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis, is an unpretentious and inspiring film. Sally Hawkins does not play Maud so much as disappear into her. Ethan Hawke gives a strong performance as her husband Everett. Screenwriter Sherry White provides a touching love story about two people Maud describes as a “pair of odd socks”.
Walsh and White are not in a hurry to reveal the cause of Maud’s health problems (rheumatoid arthritis, dating from childhood). They concentrate on showing her thoroughly unsympathetic family members, who sell the house she inherited and generally treat her as a mental incompetent.
Everett, who grew up in an orphanage, now ekes out a living as a fish peddler near Digby, Nova Scotia. He has a tiny house (roughly 10 X 12 feet), but decides he needs someone to “make the place look all right”. Maud sees Everett’s ad for a live-in housekeeper at a local store. She wastes no time ripping it off the wall and walking to his doorstep.
The job represents independence to Maud, and she fights for it. Everett takes her on for a trial, primarily because there are no other applicants. There is a problem-the tiny house only has room for one bed. Maud agrees to share a bed with Everett, but she also blurts out her concerns about physical intimacy. (Of all the betrayals she suffers at the hands of her family, this is the most heartbreaking.) The two marry soon afterwards.
Maud’s idea of “making the place look all right” has little to do with housework. She begins painting flowers, birds, and leaves at various spots in the house. Soon she is making Christmas cards and small paintings that Everett sells. Sandra (Kari Matchett), a visitor from New York, buys a painting and starts to promote Maud’s work. Suddenly she is an artist, not just someone who paints a little. She begins to develop a following that includes the Nixon White House (an unimpressed Maud demands they pay up front).
In an apt touch, Guy Godfree’s cinematography manages to suggest the landscapes of Maud’s paintings. Only the sharpest-eyed viewers will notice Newfoundland and Labrador standing in for Nova Scotia. Michael Timmins’ folksy score is just the right musical touch.
Creating a biopic demands some interpretation on the part of the filmmakers. It should come as no surprise that Walsh and White condense and selectively reveal parts of Maud’s life. Contrary to what the film suggests, Maud learned to paint as a child. In an interview with Herald Lifestyles, Walsh says Sandra is a combination of two women.
In the end, though, what matters is whether the portrayal evokes the heart and spirit of its subject. Thanks in large part to Sally Hawkins’ performance, I think Maudie achieves this goal in bright, splashy colors.
Theme: Art Overcomes Adversity
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