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. "Maudie"

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 inheritance.

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 it good.

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 movie.

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.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Ethan Hawke and Sally Fields as Everett and Maud
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