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Maudie: Celebrating the Power of Love and Art

Robin Menken: The story is as small as the crabbed shack in which the central characters live for three decades.
maudie

Aisling Walsh's Maudie achieves a difficult balancing act; beginning as a spiky character study of the relationship of two severely marginalized characters, it navigates painful truths, emerging in the last as act an unexpected feel good love story, celebrating the power of love and art to transform lives.

The story is as small as the crabbed shack in which the central characters live for three decades.

The story is as small as the crabbed shack in which the central characters live for three decades.

If Maudie is crippled mechanically by her early onset arthritis, orphaned Everett, a product of an orphanage, is a suspicious misanthrope twisted up by barely expressed rage. As played by Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke, they are unforgettable.

Seen in an end title sequence from “Maud Lewis: A World Without Shadows,” Diane Beaudry’s black and white documentary, the real Maude Lewis was a spindly hunchbacked woman who could only painfully lift her head.

Hawkins eschews the showiness and traps a verbatim performance could lead to, working on the character from the inside out. Her hands are painful to use, she hunches over and limps with one leg. Unable to look people in the eye, watching the ground, she looks up through downcast brows as she meets them. What we see in her eyes fascinates, A woman with little or no expectations, she stubbornly fights for independence. Suspecting her own worth, which grows over time, Maudie gamely fights through her physical and social limitations, slyly making her powerful, emerging will known.

Hawks overcomes his good looks, crafting a disadvantaged, deeply troubled and troubling man (Gruff is him at his best), eventually becoming the dutiful husband no one, except perhaps Maudie, could have expected. It is possibly his finest role, in a career of exemplary roles.

Only Maudie, whose life was a history of cruel disappointment, could channel enough innocence to find something valuable in Everett. Stubbornly fighting for a shared life, she grants him an wholly unexpected sense of worth.

Maudie’s sunny canniness tackles Everett’s deep suspicion; their feints and parries weave a humorous spell.

Some speculation that Maud's death at 67 was preventable, the product of paint fumes and smoke in their rudimentary cabin, is sidestepped in Cherry White's script.

When we first see Maudie, she's curled over, painfully painting the walls of her Aunt Ida's house.

Her selfish brother Charles Dowley (Zachary Bennett) inherits their family house and sells it to pay off his bad business investments. Cheating "incompetent" Maudie of her inheritance, he foists her off on her put-upon, repressive Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose), paying Ida a stipend to house Maudie.

Her innocence stripped away (though we learn of an earlier life changing trauma in their past), Maudie turns on her stern reproving aunt and moves out, with no prospects. Struggling down the road she stops at the country store and watches the oafish Everett Lewis post a handwritten note for a "live-in or keep house".

Maudie takes the note (revealing her wily determination) and walks the many miles to her house, where fait accompli, she becomes his housekeeper.

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The forty-year-old bachelor, a brutish fishmonger, can't even keep his customers. His only friend, fisherman Frank (Billy MacLellan) suffers his monosyllabic unpleasantness.

Moving into Everett's one room shack (with sleeping loft, Maudie moves into his bed, eventually assuming the sexual relationships Victorian servants granted their employers.

Everett abuses her, as everyone else apparently did in her life. He sets her straight; "there's me, the dog, the chickens, then there's you."

Soon Maudie's painting again her naïve representations of birds and dogs and trees. Everett accuses her of painting fairies on his wall, but he's pleased with her improvements on the place.

Accompanying Everett on his rounds peddling fish, Maudie begins to keep his records. On one trip to Kay's house, Maudie 'allows' Everett to negotiate the price for her hand-painted postcards.

Everett's told Maudie he's the boss who brings in the money. Kay asks Maudie how much she charges for her postcards. Maudie demurs and asks "the boss". Surprised Everett mutters "5 cents". (Kay raised the price to a dime). Maudie's sly smile is irreplaceable. She's proven her worth to Everett and won the privilege to paint to her heart's content.

She begins signing her paintings with both their names, an abused Beauty taming an impossible Beast. Soon she convinces him to marry. the pair of "mismatched socks" happily live in their crude shack.(The actual couple lived together for 32 years.)

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Media attention comes to the couple. especially after President Nixon commissions some paintings

The later revelation of a family secret leads to a sad third act catharsis, and shyster debtor Charles returns to try to "manage" Maudie's now successful career. She sends him packing.

Cinematographer Guy Godfree's seductive images of rural Nova Scotia (shot in Newfoundland) have a touch of Wyeth. Production designer John Hand meticulously recreates Maud and Everett's 10×12-foot cottage, every surface, inside and out, painted by Maud. The original is on view in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Aisling Walsh and writer Sherry White never water down the uncomfortable transitions in their unusual love story. PC is off the table, and lucky for us - the story is remarkable and moving.

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I was a bit disappointed in the ending. Maudie's slide towards emphysema seemed precipitous and their romance over sentimentalized, but the delicately drawn. daring journey rivets. OPENS Friday June 16.

Robin Menken