9 out of 10
Directed by Aisling Walsh
There’s a very good reason Aisling Walsh’s gentle, moving biopic Maudie has struck a chord with international audiences (the film opens in U.S. theaters today) and has already become a modest hit. It’s a love story about an awkward woman and an even more awkward man and their lifelong connection. But unlike a majority of the fabricated, puddle-deep rom-com pablum ladled out liberally from Hollywood, this Canadian/Irish co-production doesn’t coat its characters in any sort of gloss. It’s real. It’s true. It’s a warts-and-all portrait of two people who have been pushed to the margins of society, finding each other, loving each other, hurting each other and ultimately supporting each other, becoming better people as a unit then they were alone. And if that’s not true love, I’m not sure what is.
Maudie tells the tale of the child-like Maud Lewis (beautifully played by Paddington‘s Sally Hawkins), a young woman living in the rural East Coast of Canada who has been kept under lock and key by her snobbish aunt and hustling brother. Because of the onset of arthritis that has gripped her body, Maud has trouble walking straight and using her hands properly and yet her passion and saving grace is her talent for painting, something she doesn’t just want to do, she needs to do it. One day, while out at the corner shop picking up supplies, she overhears gruff local fisherman Everett (Ethan Hawke) mention his quest to find a housekeeper and, on a whim, Maud applies. Everett is a bit of a brute; uncouth and verbally abusive but, as Maud sees the job as a ticket to a freedom long denied her, she endures his otherwise impossible behavior. Slowly, surely, day by day, night after night, the pair find comfort in each others presence. As Maud decorates the tiny, two -room home with her delicate and charming folk art, Ethan lightens up and soon the locals begin to take notice. And when a wealthy New York art dealer “discovers” Maud, she helps bring her unique and beautiful work to the world.
It seems as if Maudie is a kind of rough-hewn fairy tale, but its story is true and Walsh (and writer Sherry White) plays it close to the facts. Never once is Everett’s volatile behavior (and possible mental illness) excused, but the beauty in their relationship is that Maud sees underneath that; she knows Everett loves her and she nurtures their bond, refusing to give up and her art and spirit thrives because of this refusal to give up. Hawkins and Hawk essay these strange, fascinating characters expertly and their chemistry is profound. They’re supported by a script and pace that meanders and doesn’t force a cliched story arc into the narrative, allowing the movie to grow around its characters; the movie’s simple pleasure stems from feeling like you’re living in this world with them, that you’re walking the long, winding road that leads to their home, that you feel their joy, their pain, their triumphs and frustrations.
Simply put, Maudie is a joy. See it with someone you love.