Running Time: 115 Minutes
Director: Aisling Walsh
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke & Kari Matchett
QFT PRESS SCREENING 01/08/2017
An arthritic Nova Scotia woman works as a housekeeper while she hones her skills as an artist and eventually becomes a beloved figure in the community.
If you’re twenty minutes into a film and you feel the need to switch on your phone (because it should be off before the film starts you troglodyte!) to check the runtime of the movie, that’s never a good sign. Never. No exceptions… Except maybe for Maudie. I would have to admit that I was writing the review after about 20 minutes and words like tedious, soporific and monotonous catapulted into my lizard brain. I wanted to run out of the theatre and into the arms of something more modern and pacey. Something more cynical maybe? It’s hard to be optimistic these days.
But I’m glad I didn’t because Maudie ever so slowly and ever so slyly worked its way into my head and under my skin. I’m not sure entirely how it did that. First impressions of the movie were that it was painfully slow; Sally Hawkins was trying too hard to win an Oscar; and Ethan Hawke was doing his best Harrison Ford impression (not Harrison Ford from any particular movie but Harrison Ford as I like to imagine him in real life).
And yet I’ve come away from this thinking that it was paced perfectly, Sally Hawkins deserves an Oscar for a touching and nuanced performance and Ethan Hawke should star in my Harrison Ford biopic spec script: Grumpy Man who Occasionally Crashes Planes and can Act Sometimes (working title).
Modern audiences are conditioned to a certain kind of pacing and Maudie is antithetical to pretty much anything showing at your local multiplex. Jeff Nichols’ quietly brilliant Loving, released here earlier this year, is somewhat comparable to Maudie in this way in that space and ambiance are given precedence over plotting; Characters reveal themselves slowly but much more realistically. This can sometimes put people off but the effect is that it forces you to see things from a different point of view.
And the small idea of the film is that of point of view: This is a film about Maud Lewis, one of Canada’s best known artists, who had more than her fair share of difficult circumstances thrown at her in life but there is an optimism to her world-view that is refreshing and, crucially, devoid of cynicism. The brightness and colourful nature of her paintings belie the bullying and trauma she suffered because of the way rheumatoid arthritis misshaped her body and also the initially difficult circumstances she faces when she meets (and eventually marries) Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke).
Responding to an ad Everett placed in a goods store, Maud becomes Everett’s cleaning lady but he treats her horribly at first and if you’re a feminist going to see this movie (or anyone who appalled by bullying or abuse) you’ll likely be horrified. At one point Everett hits Maud and it’s just awful to have to watch but it’s also the turning point of the movie as we slowly begin to see just who these characters are underneath a very deceptive exterior.
And Hawkins and Hawke have great chemistry together (Hawke has said working with Hawkins was one the highlights of his career) and maybe it’s the old romantic in me but there’s a scene where they dance on their wedding night just by themselves with Maud standing on Everett’s feet and it’s a deeply affecting moment in a film filled with quiet yet meaningful moments.
Both Everett (likely someone who would today be diagnosed as being on the Autism spectrum) and Maud have really only known a particular way of life prior to meeting each other but they slowly begin to see things from each other’s point of view and as an audience, we start to see these two as being much more complex than previous impressions would have led us to believe. We learn, in one of the oldest lessons there is to learn, not to judge a book by its cover.
Massive plaudits should go to director Aisling Walsh and and screenwriter Sherry White for crafting such a brilliant, slow moving story because there was surely pressure at some point in the long development period (13 years apparently) of this film to jazz up the plot with unnecessary drama or make more of the fact that Maud had a disability and again credit to Walsh and White for for not over-emphasising this as it is just one aspect of her remarkable character.
Shot by Guy Godfree, Nova Scotia (though shot in Newfoundland) looks quiet, unassuming yet undeniably beautiful and the same could be said for the movie as a whole. As we move between sun-kissed horizons to snow-swept fields, we see two people grow and develop a love that, though bitter at times, is heartfelt and honest and the ending will likely leave even the most world-weary teary-eyed.
Maudie is highly recommended because it’s outwardly a celebration of an extraordinary woman who worked hard ,and often in harsh conditions, to bring something colourful and pure into the world but it’s really about learning to see things from another point of view; to understand that cynicism is easy but that empathy and love, though hard won, is worth it in the end. And that’s a truly beautiful thing in less than optimistic times.
A slow moving yet hugely rewarding and heartfelt film from Aisling Walsh with wonderful performances from Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke who develop a chemistry that feels real and authentic. One of the best films of the year.