Maudie (2016) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Her artistry and their life

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Besides illuminating the undeniable artistry of its real-life artist heroine, “Maudie” focuses on small intimate moments from her plain, shabby life with a man she came to live with for many years. While it is interesting to get the occasional glimpses into her humble creative process, it is also poignant to watch how two different people get close to each other despite each own personal flaws, and the result is a somber but powerful drama filled with life and beauty.

When Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins) was Maud Dowley, she was a lonely woman who had lived with her aunt in Digby, Nova Scotia since her parents died. In one early scene, she tries to get along with others at a local club, but she is not a very social person from the start, so that leads to another disappointing night. In addition, she has suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and we cannot help but notice her odd gait whenever she walks.

On one day, she comes across a notice put by Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), a local fish peddler living in a nearby area. He wants to hire a live-in housekeeper who will take care of a small one-room house where he has lived alone, and Maud sees this as a chance to get out of her aunt’s house although she does not know much about housekeeping. She goes to his house for getting hired, and she soon comes to leave her aunt’s house as she wanted, but living with Everett turns out to be not a very easy task for her. Besides being quite gruff and antisocial, he is frequently callous and uncaring to Maud, and there is one particularly harsh scene where he slaps her hard just because she displeases him after his friend jokes about the relationship between Maud and Everett.

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While naturally feeling hurt by her employer’s abrasive side, Maud continues to work and live in his house nonetheless, and she slowly gets accustomed to her new environment while also bringing some change to it via her artistic activities. Everett does not seem to like this much, but he lets her do whatever she wants to do with brushes and paints, and the mood inside his house is gradually changed as she keeps drawing on whatever looks suitable to her. In addition to the interior walls of the house, she draws on windows and other objects in the house, and the house starts to look a little cheerier than before as it is filled with a growing number of her artistic outputs.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Maud and Everett becomes more intimate as they spend more time together in the house. At first, they just slept together in his sleeping loft, but, as they get more used to each other’s presence, they come to look more like a husband and a wife. While both of them are awkward and clumsy in expressing their mutual feeling, they eventually marry anyway, and there is a quietly sweet moment as they enjoy their unceremonious wedding day on a wide field.

As their relationship is developed further like that, Maud’s works get noticed bit by bit. After her painted postcards happen to draw the attention of one of Everett’s customers, Maud and Everett start to sell her paintings, and then there comes a point where she is introduced to a lot more people via a newspaper article and a TV report. It is accordingly followed by more demands for her paintings, and she even gets an order for two paintings from none other than US Vice President Richard Nixon.

Now this looks like a dramatic change, but nothing much was changed for Maud and Everett in real life as they kept selling her works at modest price, and the screenplay by Sherry White sticks to that factual aspect while leisurely rolling its story and two main characters along the passage of time. As seasons come and go, the sense of life between Maud and Everett becomes more palpable to us, and small colorful details in their house further emphasize that as we come to notice more of them.

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Mainly shot in Newfoundland and Labrador instead of Nova Scotia, the movie is imbued with authentic mood to admire. Cinematographer Guy Godfree did a terrific job of vividly capturing the melancholic beauty of wide and windy landscapes surrounding the characters in the movie, and production designer John Hand deserves to be praised for his excellent recreation of Maud and Everett’s house (The real one is currently preserved in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, by the way).

Above all, two lead performers of the movie give wonderful performances filled with human nuances to be appreciated. Alternatively amusing and touching, Sally Hawkins, who previous collaborated with director Aisling Walsh in BBC TV miniseries “Fingersmith” (2005), effortlessly exudes meek but irrepressible charm as a good-hearted woman who simply enjoys her unadulterated creative process, and Ethan Hawke effectively complements his co-star’s benign acting while looking quite rougher and shabbier than usual in his understated performance. Maud and Everett surely look like a mismatched couple in every aspect, but their seemingly rickety relationship somehow works for both of them, and Hawkins and Hawke are moving especially when their characters’ relationship turns out to be deeper than we expected.

Overall, “Maudie” is a small, pleasant gem to enjoy thanks to Walsh’s thoughtful direction, the commendable efforts from her crew members, and the superb performances from her two talented lead performers. While getting to know a bit about Maud Lewis’s works, I was touched a lot by the gentle human drama between her and her husband in the movie, and I also admired how deftly the movie drew emotional responses from the audiences around me including my mother. In my trivial opinion, this is one of the most satisfying movie experiences of this year.

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