Saturday 3 June 2017

Movie Review: Maudie (2016)

A biography of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis, Maudie is a simple, heartfelt and slow-moving story about overcoming adversity with plenty of unlikely perseverance and limited talent.

It's the late 1930s in the small community of Marshalltown, Nova Scotia. Maud Dowley (Sally Hawkins) is a slightly eccentric dowdy spinster, abandoned by her brother and living with an aunt. Maud walks with a pronounced limp, suffers from arthritis and seems to have no prospects in life. But determined to make something of herself, she applies for a job as housekeeper for gruff fish salesman Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke).

Everett is a grumpy man of few words and fewer social skills, living on the edge of town in a tiny one-room house. Maud has to navigate around his moods just to keep her job as live-in cleaner and cook. Gradually they become close, and Maud starts to paint the walls of the house, demonstrating an artistic bent for simple images of nature. When her artwork is spotted by Sandra (Kari Matchett), a sophisticated tourist from New York, Maude's reputation as a folk artist starts to grow, but secrets from her past emerge to cause more pain.

The art of Maud Lewis is simple, innocent and childlike, inspired by the natural landscape of Canada's east coast. Maudie the film holds true to the same principles, maintaining an uncomplicated stance and relying on the central performance and the lost-in-time rural setting to capture the imagination.

There is nothing in the story deserving of shouts from rooftops. Lewis was an unassuming humble woman, and the film draws from her power of quiet determination to push back against personal and societal barriers to build momentum. Director Aisling Walsh keeps her cameras largely static, the passage of time slow and unassuming, allowing the sparse surroundings to seep onto the screen. The settings alternate from the idyllic small town with one general store and no secrets to the bumpy outskirts where Everett lives on the margins of society and Maud finds an unlikely home.

Maud and Everett become a couple without ever talking about becoming a couple, their affection conveyed through tolerance and accommodation rather than chemistry and sparks, an uncomfortable relationship between two misfits perfectly portrayed by Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke. Hawkins gets into Maud's skin and disappears within the character, a committed performance built on small increments of individual courage rather than large actions or words. Hawke pulls off the difficult task of turning a brooding, undomesticated man who initially favours his dogs and chickens over any other human into something resembling a sympathetic supportive character.

Maudie does test the patience with an over-reliance on mood, but despite the languid pacing the film is a worthwhile celebration of an unlikely cultural icon.

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