A raw, rev­e­la­tory por­trait of an artist

The Denver Post - - LIFE&CULTURE - By Michael O’Sul­li­van Dun­can Deyoung, Sony Pic­tures Clas­sics

★★★¼ Drama. Rated PG-13. 115 min­utes.

The movie “Maudie,” a fact-based drama about the late Nova Sco­tia folk artist Maud Lewis and her strange re­la­tion­ship with her hus­band, is a charm­ing tale — or as charm­ing as a tale can be that in­volves a per­son as nearly unlov­able as Everett Lewis.

As por­trayed by Ethan Hawke, Everett makes the word “cur­mud­geon” seem wholly in­ad­e­quate to de­scribe his (ini­tially) re­pel­lent na­ture. Mar­ry­ing Maud in 1938 — sev­eral weeks after hir­ing her as his live-in house­keeper for 25 cents a week — this boor­ish, barely ver­bal fish-peddler ex­pects his wife to know, and to keep, her place: As he puts it, oh so ro­man­ti­cally, that place comes right after him, his two dogs and his chick­ens.

Maud, on the other hand, is a pure de­light, sup­ply­ing nearly all of this un­pre­pos­sess­ing film bi­og­ra­phy’s quiet plea­sures, many of which come ev­ery time ac­tress Sally Hawkins, as the quirky, chain-smok­ing, se­verely arthritic ti­tle char­ac­ter, opens up her mouth to let out one of Maud’s sig­na­ture, adorable lit­tle gig­gles.

The ques­tion of what she has to laugh about makes this film some­thing of a mys­tery, as well as a most un­ortho­dox love story. The life of Maud Lewis, nee Dow­ley, was a tough one. Born “funny,” as she puts it — and not the ha-ha kind — Maud was a tiny, hunched-over elf of a per­son when she went to work, at 34, for the man who would be­come her hus­band, ca­jol­ing Everett into let­ting her paint, as was her hobby, when she had fin­ished her many chores.

It is in that paint­ing hobby — rec­og­nized in the film by a va­ca­tion­ing New Yorker (Kari Match­ett) to whom Everett has sold some fish — that di­rec­tor Ais­ling Walsh and screen­writer Sherry White see a kind of sal­va­tion for Maud. Even­tu­ally, her crude, un­fussy paint­ings of seascapes, cats and na­ture be­gin to sell, bring­ing more money into the house than Everett’s fish and odd jobs. It is only when he re­al­izes that his wife is a cash cow that he be­gins to soften.

But that’s a cyn­i­cal way of reading this story, and prob­a­bly not en­tirely fair. Ais­ling and White show Maud to be no door­mat, and “Maudie” no vic­tim tale. It is to Hawke’s credit that he able to im­bue his char­ac­ter with in­creas­ing warmth after mak­ing such a cold first im­pres­sion.

Most of “Maudie” con­sists of quiet do­mes­tic­ity, punc­tu­ated by Everett’s cranky out­bursts, as Maud’s artis­tic rep­u­ta­tion spreads. (Richard Nixon was a client, buy­ing paint­ings for the White House. And TV crews paid vis­its to her shack­like home.) But there is a side story in­volv­ing a long-buried scan­dal that lends the film gen­uine poignancy, even if the love be­tween Maud and Everett is far from a fairy-tale ro­mance.

Hawke is good at play­ing bad, but Hawkins is bet­ter, ren­der­ing, in “Maudie,” a por­trait of a woman that feels raw, real and rev­e­la­tory.

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