This sweet biopic, loosely based on real people, has its technical bumps and
beginner issues but builds the capacity to lock you into a strong emotional
grip. It would help if you're in the sympathetic softie section of the
audience but its turn of an unlikely pairing into a love story could appeal
to a wide audience and, possibly, a nomination committee.
Awkward directing and editing in the opening scenes quickly sets up the
essentials and horrors of Canadian Maud Lewis's (ne'e Dowley) difficult life
in this adaptation by screenwriter Sherry White who chose only one portion of
her subject's varied accomplishments for a movie.
Crippled by early-onset rheumatoid arthritis, a misaligned leg and speech
impairment, it was a time when everything "Maudie" had accepted and adapted to
was coming apart. She was grieving the death of her newborn child in the
belief that it had died because of a deformity. She never saw the dead baby
but, after all, hadn't her greedy brother Charles (Zachary Bennett) and cold
Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose) tell her about it and tried to console her?
She lives in her aunt's comfortable house but only by enduring the woman's
non-stop corrections and reprimands about Maudie's nightclubbing. Charles
makes matters worse when he informs her that he sold the family home willed
to them both by their recently departed parents, cheating her out of her
Hardily doing her best with the cards she was dealt, a turnaround occurs when
she sees Everett Lewis, a loud, shoddy fish seller, posting a "Housekeeper
Wanted" announcement on the grocery store's ad board. Maudie wanted.
It's well known in the Nova Scotia community that Lewis's tiny house is
little more than a hut with a sink, a wood stove and a bed, but this doesn't
deter little Maudie. She grabs the note before anyone else has a chance to
see it, dresses herself up and, after an arduous trek to the remote cabin,
appears on his doorstep, ad in hand. This, Maud Dowley insists, gives her
license to impudently demand at least a tryout for the job since she's asking
for no more than room and board.
To say he's resistant would be an understatement.
On a scale of ornery, she has met more than her match.
Ethan Hawke ably treats us to the inarticulate charms of hermit Everett Lewis
as the most difficult of men congested with negativity. Quarelling,
accusing, distrusting, outfoxing; all parts of his style before a slow, ever
so slow adaptation to the reality that this had become a match he might want
to hang onto. Imagine a pair of Asperger patients -- she with the patience and
wisdom of Mother Teresa enduring a storm of insults hurled at her.
But it's not all bad. Unlike many a biopic, it's this man's nasty personality
that saps all the sentimentality out of what is a romantic drama. Which makes
And, then comes the surprise, based on fact and probably more than one book
behind the movie, such as Maud
Lewis: World Without Shadows, which was her totally unexpected talent
as a folk artist, transcending housekeeping and impoverishment.
Gradually, her paintings draw wide interest, and sales!. The going price for
her renderings of the flora and fauna in the Nova Scotia landscape rise to
around $10 -- a fortune to Ev whose grumbles diminish with every sale
and home improvements reach new levels. He's almost speechless. One can only
imagine what he'd say to one of her paintings selling some years later for
$36,800 at a Toronto auction and another for $45,000. That part isn't in the
In fact, there is much about the real Maud's work in several media, not the
least of which was her acting. But here, and I think wisely on the part of
director Aisling Walsh and writer Shery White, the story sticks to the
emergence of the painting talent even the artist didn't know she had. With
the good fortune tenderness grows.
Prepare for it. Bring hankies. And remember, in early March 2018, what I
said about the possibilities of a nomination for Sally Hawkins.
Though Hawke turns in a robust performance, maybe a mite overdone, it's she
who draws the sympathy and demands the critical attention.
~~ Jules Brenner