You won't find many of Maud Lewis's paintings outside of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, but her story is one of the more interesting and unique ones to come out of Canadian art history. It's the subject of Irish writer-director Aisling Walsh's latest film, Maudie, a simple but well-structured and emotionally rich drama that does the Nova Scotia native justice, arguably showcasing two of our country's most undervalued treasures (the second being the Maritimes themselves, captured beautifully here by cinematographer Guy Godfree).
Starring previous Oscar-nominee Sally Hawkins as the titular character, the start of the film finds Maud, well into adulthood but crippled by juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, living with her well-to-do aunt in Digby, NS. Sick of living a life without meaning, she ventures into town one day and spies a listing, posted at a local shop by a fish peddler and handyman named Everett (played by Ethan Hawke), looking for a live-in housekeeper.
His home is just a one-room shack with an attic bedroom on top, so once the chores are done (and even if they're not) Maud starts painting everything inside — old pieces of wood; shelves; even the walls and windows themselves — to pass the time. Originally disagreeable and combative, a relationship of convenience, and later mutual respect, is formed between the two town outcasts. Slowly, people begin knocking on their door to purchase her paintings and explore the home.
Set between the mid 1930s to late 1960s, Maudie offers a fascinating look at evolving gender norms and life on the East Coast, with most of the initial tension revolving around Everett and Maud's attempts to accept one another, and be accepted by the world around them. The pacing is perfect, with each artistic addition to their home not only representing the passing of time, but the destruction of Everett's ego, as his wife's work slowly starts to consume, painted surface by painted surface, everything they own. As the film progresses, Everett learns to admire, approve and understand her work, as well as what it means to the rest of the world (former U.S. President Richard Nixon even requested some pieces be made specifically for him).
Hawke (a sometimes-Nova Scotian himself who owns property in the province) nails everything about his working class character, from his accent all the way to his quiet contemplation. But it's Hawkins, like Lewis herself, who steals the show, delivering a performance that never feels hackneyed — a hard feat that shows real restraint. It's as effortless as the fine folk art Lewis produced in her life, resonating long after it's out of eyesight, regardless of its humble beginnings. (Mongrel Media)