MAUDIE: An Intimate Look at a Painter’s Life

Sally Hawkins portrays a Canadian folk artist

Maudie is a quiet portrait of a relationship, a biopic that places more importance on place and location and less on chronological setting. Most of the film is centered on the couple living in the two-room shack owned by Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). Maud (Sally Hawkins), in her thirties and living with arthritis since childhood, comes to work as a housekeeper of sorts for Everett after her brother sells their family home. Despite Everett’s abrasive and solitary tendencies, Maud chooses to move in with him instead of being coddled and watched over by her aunt.

The screenplay by Sherry White (Orphan Black, The Catch) keeps dialogue sparse, but maintains a certain humor and even throws in a twist or two. Hawke plays Everett as a grumpy sumbitch; it’s the deepest I’ve seen him delve into any character. Although Maud’s life and art is the premise for the picture, Everett’s character is as dimensional and frank as hers.

Hawkins takes on the exterior symptoms of Maud’s illness as well as her character’s fierce spirit and determination to make the most of her situation. Her voice remains soft as she asks for payment she deserves, jokes around, tells secrets, or asks Everett to install a screen door.

I’m not sure how renowned folk artist Maud Lewis is outside of Canada (although I have a Canadian friend who hasn’t heard of her). This film from director Aisling Walsh (Fingersmith) illustrates Maud’s creative process and how the artist went from painting scenes from nature on her home’s walls to selling her art to such figures as Nixon.

Walsh’s movie encloses us in the intimate setting of Everett & Maud’s home as their relationship progresses to marriage. The stark Nova Scotia landscape (although Maudie was filmed in Newfoundland) surrounding the house contrasts with the warm environment that the couple works to create throughout their decades together.

Maud comments to another character about the importance of windows to her work, and the imagery of Walsh’s film reflects that. A conversation is viewed through the distortion of glass or the camera shows Maud’s face through the other side of a window…and the movie closes on the window Maud used as her source of light while working. Such attention to recurring imagery, along with the unusual story and compelling performances from Hawke and Hawkins, make Maudie a memorable work that is far from a typical biopic.

Maudie opens in Austin on Friday, July 14 at the Regal Arbor.

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