1930's rural Nova Scotia. Maud Dowley, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, smokes heavily to deal with the pain. Because of her unusual gait from the arthritis, she is often mistaken as a stupid, incapable woman, that perception which does make her feel stupid and incapable. That view is held by her surviving family, her brother Charlie and her Aunt Ida with who she lives. After an action by Charlie, Maud decides to seek some independence, she the only applicant for a posted job as housekeeper for brusque Everett Lewis, a poor fish seller. Despite not wanting to hire a cripple which only adds to their antagonism, Maud negotiates to get the job for room and board. Their antagonistic relationship ends up including Everett exacting beatings on Maud whenever she doesn't do what he wants. To keep herself happy, Maud begins to paint the interior of the house with happy pictures and paint similar pictures on small cards, these folk art pictures how she wants to see the world. Maud's ...Written by
There is quote by Kurt Vonnegut that comes to mind when I think of Maudie, the latest film based on the real life and times of an artist. "Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something." That may sound like a backhanded compliment but if Maud Lewis was portrayed accurately in the film, I doubt she'll mind. To her painting wasn't a source of ego or pride. It was something she just did - to make herself happy - and if it made others happy all the better.
The film picks up with Maudie, played with understated sensitivity by Sally Hawkins, as she struggles and fails to earn the respect of her family. Despite her severe arthritis, Maudie answers an advert for a live-in maid and runs away. She moves in with and eventually marries the crotchety Everett Lewis (Hawke), a fishmonger who manages to put on a grim smile but once over the film's 40+ year time span. After a time living in Everett's dimly lit squalor, Maudie relights her passion for painting using abandoned cork board and the walls of her new home to paint continuously.
The true-life Maudie was eventually considered Canada's most popular and prolific folk artist; though one could hardly tell given the solitude that follows Maudie throughout her life. In the film, she remains isolated, largely due to her debilitating arthritis and painful shyness around strangers. There's one awkward scene early on where Maud struggles to shuffle out of a doorway and stick her head out long enough to compliment a woman's shoes. In that moment we realize her deep desire to be both accepted and left alone.
The film aptly compliment's the artist's own frailties and unconventionality with a strikingly brittle and unconventional love story. Maud's warmth towards Everett is sincere and unconditional. She sees in him, a beautiful person - an outcast like her who has been made wild by the cruelties of life but nevertheless deserves her love. As open as Maudie is to the inner-beauties of a warm sunset, Everett remains as cold and brutal as a winter storm. Yet every time he "puts a foot down," he wordlessly capitulates. He grumbles and erupts in objectively despicable behavior but Maud always seems to convince him that he's capable of love and being loved.
The film continues down this path of bittersweet co-dependence and as the relationship develops, we see the results of Maud's patience and virtue. Thanks to the remarkably assured cinematography of Guy Godfree, the film crackles with natural beauty and warmth of a cozy hearth. There are some truly breathtaking natural vistas on display here, which despite their expanse manage to feel intimate and idyllic.
As a film Maudie is certainly within the ranks of Mr. Turner (2014), My Left Foot (1989) and Lust for Life (1956). Much like those films, Maudie centers on the life of a tortured artist whose personal story tells something truly meaningful about the human condition. It also has a truly award-worthy performance by Sally Hawkins who is at this point in a class of her own.
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