If you can imagine the handsome Ethan Hawke with a perpetual frown and a gravelly voice like Billy Bob Thornton’s in “Sling Blade”, you will appreciate Hawke’s amazing performance in a lovely, delicate new movie that opens in L.A. tomorrow (Friday, June 16).
The film is “Maudie”, based on the life story of Maude Lewis, a Grandma Moses-like primitive painter from Nova Scotia. Played by Sally Hawkins, Maude is a cheerful but slow-witted woman with a bent spine and a crippled leg. She lives with an aunt who is supposed to be “taking care of her” but instead is both negligent and critical of her.
One day, on a trip to the grocery store, Maude spies an unkempt, gruff man in grubby work clothes who places a terse note on the grocer’s bulletin board. He is looking for a live-in “housemaid.” The thought of having a job appeals to her, and the next day she walks the miles to his ramshackle and cramped house and undergoes a weird job interview.
The man, Everett Lewis, is a fish peddler, a woodcutter, and a volunteer at a children’s orphanage. From the start he rejects her, but she is persistent, and eventually, when he gets no other applicants, he begrudgingly gives her the job. But, he instructs her, “I’m in charge. It’s me, the dogs, the chickens, and then you.”
At this point in a typical movie she would work unceasingly until she had turned his cabin into a replica of Buckingham Palace. But she doesn’t. She cleans it up a bit, but then, discovering cans of leftover paint, she begins to decorate the walls with bright, colorful flowers and birds. She paints everything in sight, including the windows and doors and even the risers on the staircase.
And, with newfound confidence, she then begins to paint little pictures on cards and larger works on wooden planks. These are fanciful images based on the scenery around her and the transformations they undergo throughout the various seasons of the year.
Eventually she is “discovered” by a sophisticated woman from New York who has rented a local cabin for a short vacation. When she asks to buy one of Maude’s painted cards, Everett tells her it will cost a nickel, but she magnanimously pays him a dime. Later, when she commissions many larger paintings from Maude, Everett raises the price to five dollars each.
Soon everyone is clamoring for her paintings, and even Vice President Nixon buys one, which brings her national notoriety. She becomes something of a celebrity and Everett appears, still frowning, with her on TV. But having been a bit softened by her perpetual agreeable temperament, he finally marries her—something she had been wanting for quite a while. At the end, however, he admits that he was always afraid that she’d leave him. “You can do much better than me,” he tells her.
“Maudie” is a story beautifully told, with exquisite photography by Guy Godfree, and pleasing music by Michael Timmins. It was written by Sherry White and directed by Aisling Walsh and will open on Friday, June 16th at The Landmark, 10850 W. Pico Blvd, and Arclight Hollywood, 6360 Sunset Blvd, both in Los Angeles.
Postscript: Maudie’s paintings and the decorated house she and Everett lived in are on permanent display at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax.