VIFF 2016—British actress Sally Hawkins stars as Nova Scotian folk artist Maud Lewis in Maudie, a rather straightforward but altogether charming Irish-Canadian co-produced historical biography of the arthritic painter. Directed by Aisling Walsh and co-starring a gruff Ethan Hawke as Lewis' fish peddler husband, Everett, the biopic is framed as an unconventional mid-century love story.
In small moments, Maudie often feels like a darkly comic film about lonely souls as Maud slowly and accidentally becomes a prominent figure in the Naïve Art movement by using painting as a means of therapy for an otherwise tragic, solitary existence. Hawkins' physical performance is exceptional and frames the real-life artist with enough character, drama, and wit to flesh out her meek but purposeful motivations and actions while wrapping her disabilities and sadness into an appropriate historical context.
Occasionally, Maudie suffers from common biographical problems. A passing familiarity with Lewis' work is useful to gain further insight into her plight as her ailment and disabilities are only lightly expressed. Aisling constructs the film as an intimate melodrama that relies completely on our affection for the two offbeat characters. The expression of art and painting as a method for survival is executed in an appealing fashion as it ably gets across how these two misfits happen to fall in love.
The story scripted by Sherry White is often fairly by the numbers while it wisely builds much of Lewis' personal history as historical melodrama as the performances and artful direction often lift the standard real-life material. Expertly shot by cinematographer Guy Godfree, the Maritime setting (shot in Newfoundland) splendidly contextualizes the art and drama of Lewis' troubled life through scenic but muted imagery.
Maudie appeals directly off the charm and affection for Maud and Everett as played by Hawkins and Hawke. They make the often difficult subjects lively and interesting while giving enough insight into Lewis' artwork. It's an intimate film about loneliness and dealing with personal sadness while celebrating creativity.
Maudie screened at the opening gala of the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Panorama series.
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