Friday, June 23, 2017

'Maudie' Is An Unromantic Romance



This review originally appeared on SFist.com.

Maudie, which tells the slightly fictionalized story of Nova Scotian folk artist Maud Lewis, is probably one of the least romantic romances you'll ever see. This makes the film unique, but also a bit hard to swallow.

Sally Hawkins is Maud, a sheltered woman in her 30s who has been forced to live with her bitter aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose) after her brother Charles (Zachary Bennett) sells the family home. Maud has rheumatoid arthritis, and her family is convinced she'll never be able to look after herself.

When Maud sees a local fish peddler named Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) post an ad for a maid she answers it, showing up at his one-room house at the edge of their Nova Scotia town with a suitcase in hand.

Everett is a curmudgeon at best, downright mean at worst, but to Maud, his small house means freedom. So she does her best to tend to it, make him meals, and cheer up the shack with brightly colored paint.

There are hints that Maud loves to paint, but we don't actually see her paint a picture until after what is probably the most painful scene in the film: when Everett violently slaps her for making a joke in front of his friend Frank.

Maud uses art as solace, painting flowers on the wall through her tears, and Everett, perhaps feeling regret, lets her do it. The flowers spread through the house, and are joined by "cheerful chickens" and birds Everett is convinced are malformed looking fairies. Soon Maud's painting catch the eye of a sophisticated New York lady in snazzy shoes (Kari Matchett), who buys several painted cards before commissioning full paintings. Eventually, news of Maud's paintings spreads, as does their popularity...

Maudie plays out like a romance between two outcasts, but it's a hard one to buy because Hawke's Everett is such an unrepentant ass, and their coupling is to due to propriety, not love. They end up married, but only because they are forced to share the only bed in the house, and when Everett tries to have sex with her, Maud insists they get married first. (In the film it takes several months before they do, but in real life, it was mere weeks.)

I imagine Everett remains such an unlikeable guy so the story can stay true to life (the real life Everett sounds like he was even worse, which is a little hard to fathom), but by the end, we're supposed to buy that there was a genuine love between the two or them, and I just didn't.

While Everett does allow Maud to continue her painting, he does so begrudgingly, and pockets all of her earnings. They live over 30 years together in the same house, from the 1930's to the late 1960's, and aside from her paintings, the house never changes or improves.

The thing that saves Maudie from becoming a miserable viewing experience is Sally Hawkins. She's just a joy to watch. Much of her dialog is almost whispered, managing to get Everett to do what she wants with quiet but insistent words, giving several scenes much needed levity. Her Maud is disabled, but not dejected, always trying to stifle a smile that inevitably breaks through. Hawkins makes you understand how those happy, colorful paintings managed to come out of someone living such an austere life. Seen through her eyes, their tiny home is almost magic, with a single window that looks onto the entire world.

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