Maudie

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - (Happy-Go-Lucky, Blue Jas­mine)

Early in their re­la­tion­ship, when Maudie (Sally Hawkins) has an­swered an ad for a live-in house­keeper posted by reclu­sive Nova Sco­tia fish ped­dler Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), he lets her know where she stands in the house­hold peck­ing or­der. “I’m first,” he growls. Next, he says, come the dogs. Then the chick­ens. “You’re at the bot­tom.”

Maudie is used to the short end of the stick. Born “funny” (her word) and crip­pled since child­hood with rheuma­toid arthri­tis, Maudie lived with her brother after their par­ents died, and then moved in with her stern Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose). Now in her thir­ties, the house­keep­ing gig (even look­ing up at the chick­ens) seems like a step to­ward lib­er­a­tion. And when the crusty, brutish Lewis of­fers mar­riage, to over­come her sex­ual scru­ples, she ac­cepts.

Hawkins is one of those Bri­tish ac­tors, like Imelda Staunton, who is so good most peo­ple in Amer­ica don’t even know who she is. She dis­ap­pears com­pletely into the roles she plays. Hawke is al­most as good, although peo­ple do know who he is, so to­tal dis­ap­pear­ance isn’t an op­tion.

Ir­ish di­rec­tor Ais­ling Walsh has crafted a cham­ber piece in­spired by the life of artist Maud Lewis (19031970) that leans heav­ily on char­ac­ter study as it fol­lows the growth of Maudie’s recog­ni­tion as an artist and the deep­en­ing of her re­la­tion­ship with Lewis. As the movie has it, she dis­cov­ers art when she dips her fin­ger into a pud­dle of spilled paint and starts daub­ing flow­ers on the wall of the Lewis shack. This is a bit of poetic li­cense (she learned wa­ter­color from her mother), but re­mem­ber, it’s a movie. Some con­nec­tive ma­te­rial is skipped over, but Hawkins keeps you too cap­ti­vated to mind much. A key sub­plot in­volv­ing a baby may be apoc­ryphal, but it serves an emo­tional pur­pose.

Gnarled and scrunched from her af­flic­tion, Maudie main­tains a pos­i­tive de­meanor and a sunny smile. She sells hand-painted greet­ing cards for a nickel or a dime to her hus­band’s cus­tomers. And when a sum­mer res­i­dent, San­dra (Kari Match­ett), takes an in­ter­est in Maudie’s folk art and com­mis­sions some larger works, things be­gin to take off. Lo­cal tele­vi­sion does a story on her (“Vice Pres­i­dent Nixon has one of her paint­ings”) and peo­ple start beat­ing a path to her cheer­ily painted door. Her price for a paint­ing goes up to $5, then to $10. And every­one, from Aunt Ida to Lewis, be­gins to show her a lit­tle re­spect.

Clamp­ing a brush be­tween her crip­pled fin­gers, Maudie cre­ates in­fec­tious art, and so does Hawkins, in a per­for­mance with Os­car po­ten­tial. You’ll want to linger for the end cred­its, which dis­play a gallery of her Grandma Moses-like paint­ings. These days, they sell for tens of thou­sands of dol­lars, and the Lewis shack is a mu­seum. — Jonathan Richards

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