Maudie - This Quietly Understated Movie Gently Rocks
Dir: Aisling Walsh
Starring Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Kari Matchett, Zachary Bennett
Maudie is a small but really very well drawn movie. No pun intended, even though its titular figure is an artist, Maude Lewis. But before she is that, she is a young woman in 1930s Nova Scotia, belittled and ill-served by her arthritic state, something that leaves her hunched up and generally under-valued by all around her – the brother who abandons her, the aunt who doesn’t wish to be saddled with what she sees, to all intents and purposes, as a worthless and useless cripple.
But Maude wants to make something of her life, so takes a job as housekeeper to the very definition of a curmudgeon, fish pedlar Everett. Together, as the years slowly go by, their relationship and place in the world reveals itself both to them. And to us.
Based (almost inevitably) on a true story, Maudie appears to be largely a two-hander between Hawkins and Hawke. But it is in reality a three-hander, with director Walsh making fantastic use of her isolated locales, as essential to the art of Maude herself as they prove to be to the film. Nova Scotia is captured all year round, not just in its more traditional snow bound landscapes, but in the light and vibrancy of its summer months. It’s a movie of mood and small moments, something that the changes in the world around the tiny shack of Maude and Everett captures perfectly.
But ultimately it is a film of two actors, both of whom are at their very best here. Hawkins embodies the spirit of Maude from her very first shot and brilliantly leads us through her life, coupled with a convincing aging process that sees her slowly but inescapably collapse in on herself as her profile in the world of naïve art starts to rise.
As to Hawke, the man is – as he is quite often – the very definition of Best Supporting Actor Taking his own moments when offered, yes, but really knowing how to back up the people he is acting with. There are a couple of moments here – the first time he hits Maude and then rubs his fist after, as much through shame as hurt; when he changes his mind about selling one of her first paintings when he sees what it means to her – that capture just how great an actor Hawke has grown into. His is a secondary performance to Hawkins’s gently commanding lead, but one that delicately matches her, nuanced moment for moment.
Yes, it dips into the well of sentimentality a tad too much in its final act, and yes, its references are clear, evoking at times fleeting feelings of films from My Left Foot to The Quiet Man (and there is no higher praise.)
But Maudie is its own movie, powered by two of the best performances you’re likely to see all year. You’d be wise to seek it out.
(Plus, it has a lovely score the Cowboy Junkie Michael Timmins - what's not to love?)
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