by Roberta McDonald – West Coast Editor
(April 11, 2017 Vancouver, BC) Directed by Aisling Walsh, Maudie is a celebration of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis. The Irish Canadian co-production features Sally Hawkins as Maud (pictured) and Ethan Hawke as her hardscrabble husband, Everett Lewis.
Hawkins delivers a subtle and inspiring performance as a resilient outcast with juvenile arthritis. The condition renders her gait a distinct slant and she struggles to accomplish the most mundane tasks. But when she picks up her paintbrush, she is focused and determined.
Ostracized for her condition, she seeks small pleasure in painting, smoking, and visiting the local speakeasy. Desperate for freedom, she replies to a terse want ad posted in the town store, defying her overprotective and judgmental aunt, (played with pitch perfect iciness by Gabrielle Rose).
Newfoundland native Sherry White penned the script about Lewis and the province provides the backdrop with stunning vistas. Although Lewis lived most of her adult life in and around Digby Nova Scotia, nearby Newfoundland offers the same sweeping landscapes that informed Lewis’ work.
The relationship that forms between Maud and Everett, a gruff and ill-spoken fish peddler is hard to watch at times as her affable and forthcoming nature is tested by his coarse stubbornness. Hawke renders his character with vulnerability underneath his steely exterior. Ultimately proving to be a feisty supporter of his partner’s work.
The first conversation between the two is fraught and awkward as they stumble towards connection. Everett is almost mute from emotional isolation and struggles to put his needs into words. He defaults to tyrannical outbursts when frightened, ostensibly habits he learned growing up in an orphanage. Maud is timid at first, but when pushed too far, stands up to him with fierce vulnerability.
Their tender connection can be felt as he defends her against the shopkeeper who quips about his five year old being able to do better (such a tired refrain from the uninformed when presented with art). Even as her patron Sandra, luminously portrayed by Kari Matchett, attempts to purchase an unfinished painting, we see Everett spring into empathy and he protects her work by physically positioning himself between the painting and Sandra. It’s a powerful moment, when we really see his devotion in action.
As her popularity grows, Everett sulks and broods and a battle of wills ends in a brief separation. When Sandra asks about her inner workings, Maud gazes out a nearby window and describes how the frame contains the whole of the world. It’s a simple phrase that captures the artist’s sparse yet exquisite milieu.
Maudie is a tender and fortifying film, proving that tenacity and commitment to the creative urge can lead us to beautiful truths about ourselves, and perhaps even heal others in the process.
Distributed by Mongrel Media, Maudie opens April 14 in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Halifax; April 21 in Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Victoria and throughout the spring in other cities.
Based in Vancouver, Roberta McDonald is West Coast Editor for Northernstars.ca. She is a best selling writer, arts journalist and photographer. She has profiled extraordinary filmmakers, including Ang Lee and Sturla Gunnerson. Her short film The Spiral was released in 2014 and she is currently writing her first feature screenplay.