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And Then There’s Maudie…

August 9, 2017

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I didn’t want to see Maudie, but I had time to kill, and it was the only movie playing at my local theater I hadn’t seen that didn’t feature animated emojis. It sounded dreary on paper: the true story of a Nova Scotian painter stricken with arthritis who goes to work as a maid for a cranky fish peddler in the 1930s and becomes his wife — and a famed folk artist. But Maudie doesn’t live on paper: It lives on film, and it’s one of the most moving cinematic experiences I’ve had in a very long time.

Sally Hawkins — an actress who’s never particularly impressed me before, despite her Oscar nominations for Happy Go Lucky and Blue Jasmine — plays the title role. The beauty of her work, and of the script by Canadian TV vet Sherry White (Orphan Black, Rookie Blue), is that it doesn’t focus on Maud Lewis’ disability. Though Hawkins delivers a remarkably convincing physical turn, she and White treat Maudie’s arthritis as a simple fact that she doesn’t let prevent her from making the most of her life. More important, they capture the emotional richness of the character’s existence.

Ethan Hawke, who’s matured into a great actor in recent films like Boyhood and The Phenom, matches Hawkins perfectly as Everett Lewis, the misanthropic recluse who starts to melt when he sees the world through Maudie’s eyes. He brings a sly, quietly funny take to a role that could have been deeply off-putting.

Director Aisling Walsh — like White, a female alum of quality small-screen offerings (Wallander, An Inspector Calls)documents the breathtaking natural landscape of Nova Scotia with an offhanded ease. She also demonstrates an affinity for outsiders and a perceptiveness for telling human details reminiscent of Robert Altman in his McCabe and Mrs. Miller/Thieves Like Us period-drama mode.

Here’s the highest praise I can give Maudie: It’s a movie my mother would’ve loved. She passed away five years ago, but I kept thinking about her during the film, and not just because her mother’s name was Maude. My mom loved art, and artists, and underdogs, and Maudie is a valentine to all three. Last night, after I saw the film, I dreamed I saw my mom and told her about it. (She told me she knew about Maud and liked her, but she liked Grandma Moses better.) That’s how instantly this movie entered my subconscious — and my heart.

Like Harold and Maude, Maudie stands as one of the most unexpectedly affecting love stories I’ve ever seen. And there ain’t no emoji for that.

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