By Richard von Busack
The endearingly gawky Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky) stars in Maudie, and it’s one of the best portraits done of a character constrained by his or her body, up there with My Left Foot. The Nova Scotia outsider artist Maud Lewis (Hawkins) was bent over with juvenile arthritis, with hands so clawed that she eventually had to hold the brushes with her wrists. Maud made a small name for herself, painting her world—the pets she had or wished she had, and flowers for every season.
She lived in a 10-by-12 shack with her fish-peddling husband Everett (Ethan Hawke), selling her paintings by the roadside as souvenirs. Maudie shows how her life changed when she left her domineering aunt and took a job with Everett, a scowling, almost vicious grown-up orphan with a bad temper. Hawke has to stretch—he’s a tenor trying to sing bass. It’s clear why Hawke was cast; being a warm handsome actor, you forgive Everett for his meanness.
At the end of the film we see the real-life characters in a clip from a short black-and-white documentary made about Maud, and it doesn’t really reflect what we’ve just seen. Unlike the man who grudges the pictures painted on his wall, and who was reluctant to marry, the real Everett bought his wife her first paint set, and wed her after a six-week courtship. If Maudie Lewis was anything like Sally Hawkins, why wouldn’t he? Hawkins’ unguarded grin, the husky voice from too many cigs, the candidness and sidelong ways are disarming. There is a secret world inside her.
Someday I’ll go to the museum in Halifax, to see the 10-by-12 house the Lewises lived in, now preserved with all of the paintings Maud did over the years covering the walls. But my point is that the movie Maudie would be captivating even if the title character had never painted a lick.