Film Review: Maudie (2016)
Maudie is a recent biopic, exploring the extraordinary life of the Canadian folk artist, Maud Lewis (1903-1970). A Canadian-Irish co-production, Maudie stars Sally Hawkins as the titular character and Ethan Hawke as her husband, Everett Lewis. This is a tight film, with a limited cast, echoing the confinements of the chronically ill Maud’s life.
Filmed on location in Newfoundland, Canada’s easternmost province, there are scenic shots aplenty. Although, Newfoundland is functioning as a stand in for Nova Scotia, yet another Atlantic province, where Maud Lewis lived her entire life.
Maud Dowley is a burdensome invalid, or at least that’s how she’s treated by her aunt and brother. Despite being a woman well into her thirties, she is wholly dependent upon her family. Maud was born with physical deformities which developed into debilitating arthritis. She is an outsider, in many ways cast off from the community.
And then she decides to make a life for herself, getting away from her controlling aunt and brother. She answers an ad for a live-in housekeeper for a local fish peddler, Everett Lewis. He is initially suspicious of her and her gimpy ways. But he hires her, nonetheless, and thus starts her life outside of her family’s controlling presence. Yet, now she is under Everett’s thumb.
Everett is poor, illiterate and gruff. The house she is to keep is a tiny one-room house with an attic for sleeping. She shares sleeping quarters with Everett. This gets many tongues wagging in the neighboring community. But she rebuffs any of his advances, insisting that she must wed before there’s any hanky-panky. Not that Maudie is a virgin. A pregnancy years ago led to the birth of a dead, deformed child. A child that was whisked away by her family before she even saw her. This is a great sorrow in Maud’s life.
Everett hits her. We see this only once. But he does it in front of a work associate in response to Maud’s playful, teasing words. And that act of violence is a hard thing to reconcile in this marriage. Yes, indeed, they do eventually marry. And in this marriage, Maud finds space and inspiration to paint. Everett “allows” it, which is more than her family ever did. And in his gruff, grumbling way, he even helps her. She begins to paint their house, no surface in that home is safe from her brush, even the windows.
Maud the Artist
Maud’s colorful, naïve, little postcards of flowers and birds and natural scenes are noticed by a wealthy New Yorker, who vacations every year in the area. This outsider’s notice and eventual patronage launch Maud into a career as an impoverished artist. The authenticity of the naïve, untrained, folk-art style appeals to many. New York collectors want them. Tourists begin to flock to their home, buying works for a pittance. Everett makes a roadside sign. Maud sends paintings all over the continent. Richard Nixon even ends up with a painting. Television crews show up, journalists – Maud’s art is taking on a life of its own.
Everett is increasingly feeling belittled, playing second-fiddle to his famous wife. And we’ve seen before that when that man feels belittled, he lashes out. But Maud’s illnesses are also progressing. Her arthritis is crippling her even more, making it more and more difficult to even hold a brush. Can this marriage survive fame? Should it?
Tour de Force
There are very strong and stirring performances in Maudie. Sally Hawkins, as the titular character, is magnificent. It is truly a stellar performance. Ethan Hawke also delivers a strong performance as the taciturn Everett. The whole film essentially hinges on this marriage, on an examination of this relationship, and these two nail the grey nuances of a partnership.
Maudie is beautiful, disturbing, unsettling, unconventional. It is challenging conceptions of love, marriage, romance, relationship roles, and on it goes. It’s a slow and steady film that gets the thoughts percolating, lingering long after the credits have ended. Indeed, there is much to ruminate on after seeing Maudie. Maud Lewis was quite a woman; if this biopic is to be believed. An inspiring woman who found joy and created joy where and when she could despite life’s many obstacles. A woman who had a steely will behind her sugary sweet smile and acquiescing demeanor. A woman who did the best she could with what she had. And that’s pretty darn inspirational.
Content Note: Rated PG-13. There is mild swearing, sexuality, and depiction of spousal abuse.
Where to Watch: DVD, Starz, Starz Amazon Channel
Photo Credit: Mongrel Media.
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