Small bundle of tics and twitches
Maudie, a biopic of Nova Scotian painter Maud Lewis, manages to be more than just the portrait of a folk artist as a spirited woman. In deft camera strokes—and lit up by Sally Hawkins’ remarkable performance—it paints a keen picture of one woman getting by, and two people staying married in a backwater nook where comforts are few and far between.
Set in late-’30s Digby, Maud (Hawkins) lives with her aunt, who disapproves of her frequenting the dance hall. Maud answers the ad for a housekeeper which fishmonger Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) pinned up at the dry goods store. Determined, she moves in with him and not only begins to freshen up the clapboard shack miles from town, she even paints flowers and birds on its four walls.
Maud, who merely explains herself as having been “born funny,” could have been recreated as a small bundle of tics and twitches. Instead, she’s a fascinating contradiction—her halting gait and timid-sounding voice belie her sharpness and slyness (she can mask her soft-spoken sarcasm as sincerity).
When Maudie leaves its main frame—the pair’s cramped, yet somehow cozy life, with its moments of wry, odd-couple humour—it languishes for too long. Maud’s fame seems sudden and too easily sparked by a New York patron—her brother is a simple villain.
The central relationship shifts poignantly from stubborn mutual allegiance to tender affection. As Maud’s sales of her works help the pair make a go of it, the camera snugs us into the confines of the Lewis home and knells out moments of remoteness and clenched pain (orphanhood is a crucial theme). While Maudie wasn’t shot in its subject’s province—rocky outcrops give away Newfoundland as the stand-in—director Aisling Walsh and cinematographer Guy Godfree snag glimpses of the colour (wallpaper, dress and apron prints) and life (chickens, dogs) soon reflected on the cards, pieces of board, and four walls that were Maud Lewis’ canvases.
Directed by Aisling Walsh