Director: Aisling Walsh
Runtime: 116 beautifully painted minutes
Maudie may just be the most challenging review I have ever written. Here is a film that shows and doesn’t tell, and takes you on the journey of a woman’s adult life, and as such, it draws out too many emotions to simply resign to a list. Let’s just say that it covers the spectrum—there are the highest of joys, but also the deepest of betrayals. Maudie never cheats, and earns every conflicting emotion it draws out of you.
In the opening scenes of Maudie, we see that Maud (Sally Hawkins) is resilient. She was born with arthritis in the 1930s, and she is credited by her family—specifically her aunt and brother— with less autonomy than she deserves. She knows this, but she also knows this system. In the opening scene, we see her painting. She struggles to hold a paint brush, but the brightness of her paintings comes easy, and contrasts with the darkness of the life she has been dealt.
She is too old for these trappings. She is too good for them. One day, while running basic errands, she happens to be in a local store when Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) walks in. We hear him struggle to hold conversation with the shopkeeper, but visually, he is out of focus. A lot of Everett is out of focus. He is looking for a housekeeper—“a woman”. In the subsequent scenes, we begin to understand the emotional limitations of Everett, and we quickly realise that Maud and Everett are almost two sides of the same coin: Maud has her physical limitations, but Everett has only been prepared emotionally for a small spectrum of what life can offer. Everett wants to lead, but is frankly incapable of doing so. He needs Maud arguably more than she needs him, but she needs a way out.
The performances need to be credited. It’d be very easy to lose the sympathies of the audience by losing sight of the potential for growth Everett has. The script requires him to be stubborn, childish, and sometimes cruel, and to convey this whilst still making a character, frankly, loveable, is a tightrope I imagine most actors would fall off. Hawke walks it perfectly. Maudie does help him by giving us some cathartic moments of Maud putting him in his place, but even in those scenes, Hawke is required to strike the right notes, and has to let Everett be put into that place whilst staying true to the character.
The true heart and brains of the film belong to Sally Hawkins, however. Sherry White has written Maud to not only be kind and determined, but wry and opportunistic. Initially refuted for the housekeeper job by Everett, she lets it slip how far the walk was, and how she’d like a cup of tea after coming this far, buying herself more face time. Equal parts sweet and savvy, we never feel pity for Maud, and it would be easy for Hawkins to fall into that. Her subtle delivery of many lines betrays awareness and alleviating commentary on many of the situations Maud finds herself in.
I feel unequipped to do justice to Maud’s struggle. Not only to her physical ailment, but to her growing pains in her life with Everett. Happiness and tragedy blend together, and there were periods where I truly didn’t know how I felt about their relationship. Maudie highlights how co-habitation can lead to symbiosis in place of what we might recognise as modern companionate affection. You often see those internet memes talking about how “back in the day” people used to make their relationships work. Maudie might be the most realistic glimpse, at least in a long time, as to how options were limited, and how feminism has been a crawl and not just a post-Nixon phenomenon. It would be easy to label Everett as abusive, and he is, but the movie doesn’t justify that. I’m glad to discover that its director is Aisling Walsh, and that most of the executive producers are also female. Somehow that makes me feel that some of the action is observed and understood, but not argued for.
I’m unfamiliar with the art of the real Maud Lewis. It was about half-way through the film that I realised that this must be, at least partially, inspired by true events. Something about it feels too nuanced and sees people too real. I can’t offer much commentary on the life of the real Maud Lewis, but by the end of the film, Maud has earned its affectionate title. I only counted her being called “Maudie” once during the whole running time. But we want to call her “Maudie.” We want her to be loved, and we are glad when the film lets us know that she is.