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I’ve never been a fan of the heartstring tuggers. I find such things cloying and manipulative and I am far too cynical such things. And yet, even I am not immune to having my heartstrings tugged. The recently released biopic Maudie, starring the lovely Sally Hawkins, plucked every string like a classic string quartet. The story of real life Nova Scotia-based artist Maude Lewi,s who achieved minor fame in the 1950s for her homespun paintings, is the rare tear-jerker with the cinematic skill to back up the uplift.
Maude, (Sally Hawkins) or Maudie to her family and friends, is a mousy woman who struggles with debilitating arthritis in her hands and ankles. She’s struggled to get by throughout life but has managed to carry one pregnancy. The baby was sadly lost just after birth, but otherwise she’s lived in the shadow of her brother and aunt who believe they know what is best for her. However, when Maude’s brother Richie sells her family home without telling her, Maude finally finds the courage to strike out on her own.
At the local market in her small town home in Nova Scotia, Maude hears the local fishmonger, Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), advertising that he’s looking for a woman to clean his small home. Seeing an opportunity, Maude accepts the position and willingly endures Everett’s brutish, shy bullying. Ill-suited to female company, Everett is defensive and mean at first but slowly warms to having Maude around and the two begin a very slow walk toward the altar.
One day, when Everett fails to deliver fish to the summer home of a visiting New York socialite, Sandra (Kari Matchett), the socialite comes to Everett and Maude’s home to get her fish delivered. While there she spies Maude’s brilliantly beautiful and childlike paintings and is struck by their beauty. When she gets her fish, Sandra negotiates to also receive some hand-painted post cards from Maude. The cards are a hit and they begin to sell at the local market as well.
Then Sandra decides to commission a painting to take back to New York City where she shows them off and they become a minor art craze. All the while, Maude and Everett have little notion that she’s become a minor sensation and they continue to sell her paintings as $5.00 novelties out of their home. This is a new sensation for Everett, who is unaccustomed to having strangers dropping by and is uncomfortable about Maude’s newfound celebrity.
That said, Everett does eventually begin to soften up to Maude and agrees to marry her. In one of many incredibly touching scenes in Maudie, Hawke’s brutish, smelly, barely audible Everett tenderly dances with Maude as she balances herself on his boots. It’s just one of many lovely, little romantic touches that take place throughout Maudie. Don’t misunderstand. It’s not all hearts and rainbows. Hawke gives Everett a dangerous and unpredictable temper but he also shows us that that temper comes from a lifelong series of fears and insecurities, all while never verbalizing his issues.
The love affair between Maudie and Everett is expressed in gestures and glances. She kills a chicken to make a stew. He refuses to put a screen door on the house but, days later, does it just so he can see Maudie smile. Everett complains about her painting getting in the way of the housework, but then picks up a broom and pitches in to give her time to finish her latest piece. Little moments that mean so much to the both of them are tenderly and quietly displayed throughout Maudie.
Director Aisling Walsh is wonderfully minimalist in her palette and presentation. The direction of Maudie is quiet and dignified and reflects her characters and their small town values. I love the dark grays of the Nova Scotia skyline and the way Maude’s paintings on the walls and windows of their tiny cottage become this beautiful counterpoint to the stark surroundings of Nova Scotia. It’s a lovely, minimalist piece that perfectly reflects these two quiet characters and the mostly minor dramas that make up their lives together.
There is at least one significant dramatic happening in Maudie, but I won’t spoil that here. I urge you to see this wonderful little movie which this week Sony Pictures Classic sent to me for awards consideration. It’s a shame that Sally Hawkins has another, far more high profile awards contending performance in Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water. That film will likely overshadow Hawkins’ lovely and understated work in Maudie which itself could have been an awards contender in any other year. See it when it arrives on Blu-ray, DVD, and On-Demand this fall.