Starring Sally Hawkins. Rated PG
It’s hard enough to capture the motives and drives of a dedicated fine artist, and folk arts are, in some ways, even harder to parse. How do people make songs and poems and paintings without knowing what the rest of the world has already done? On the other hand, the simplicity of mixing creative crafts with everyday chores recalls the village life that dominated the planet for thousands of years, and the straightforward Maudie, an Irish-Canadian coproduction, pretty much sticks to that approach.
The neatly shot two-hour movie outlines the high and low points of Maud Lewis, a Nova Scotian who achieved minor celebrity for her cheerful watercolours in the 1950s and ’60s. The story of her self-taught expressionism is especially poignant, since she was born poor in a remote area, frequently abandoned, and had a condition that sent arthritis through most of her small, frail body.
Both parents died in the 1930s, and Maudie picks up the story when the would-be painter, played wonderfully by Mike Leigh veteran Sally Hawkins, finds herself living in small-town Digby with few options. When her brother sells the family home, giving her nothing, she bridles at the strictures of her stern maiden aunt (Vancouver stalwart Gabriel Rose), who doesn’t approve of her smoking, drinking, and going to jazz clubs—let alone wasting her time with paintbrushes that are already hard to hold.
Told she can’t even look after herself, the 34-year-old Maud instead goes after a job taking care of someone else. Rest assured, dear moviegoer, that real-life fish peddler Everett Lewis looked nothing like Ethan Hawke, and yet the former child actor does his best to play a rough, sometimes brutal dim bulb of a man—one who ranks his dogs and chickens above “a crippled-up woman”. It’s sort of a love story. Irish director Aisling Walsh, working from Rookie Blue writer Sherry White’s prosaic script, pretty much rests the whole shebang on Maudie’s struggle against pain and prejudice to gradually become famous for her colourful art. There are few whys here—just a lot of doin’.