Director: Aisling Walsh
Screenwriter: Sherry White
Runtime: 115 mins
Australian release date: 24 August 2017
Previewed at: Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 28 June 2017.
Hawke and Hawkins fly in Maudie, an off-beat, odd couple love story. An Irish/Canadian co-pro from TV director Aisling Walsh, it’s a low-key telling of a remarkable pairing, a deceptively simple tale of two extraordinary people. The third character in the film is the wildly beautiful environment of Newfoundland; filming in that harsh climate brought its challenges but the result was well worth the effort. Guy Godfree’s camerawork deservedly won him the Best Cinematography for a Theatrical Feature in the Canadian Society of Cinematographers’ Awards. I suspect that won’t be the only award this charming movie will win. If marketed well, Sally Hawkins should garner an Oscar nomination for her masterful performance. And Ethan Hawke is just as compelling.
“What is life without love or friendship?” Maude Dowley (Sally Hawkins) once asked a friend and this question was presumably foremost on her mind when she answered an ad for “a live-in or keep house.” Severely affected by rheumatoid arthritis from an early age and somewhat misshapen as a result, Maude was looking for more than a job; she was looking for companionship. Her crippled hands weren’t ideally suited to cooking and cleaning but she was desperate to get away from the care of her overbearing aunt (Gabrielle Rose). So in 1938, at the age of 34, she moved in with the reclusive curmudgeon Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), who scratched out a living selling fish and collecting junk. Everett’s one-room house was barely three metres by four, so it’s debatable that his only need was for a cleaner. Perhaps he too was looking for company, although he’d be the last to admit it. After a difficult beginning, their relationship developed into more than that of employer/employee and they soon began to depend on each other. Maude’s greatest joy was painting and she eventually covered the walls and windows of the little cottage with flowers and other motifs. When a visiting art collector from New York (Kari Matchett) recognised the beauty in her naïve works, she started to gain notoriety. Her fame unsettled Everett, however, and his fear of losing Maud began to threaten their relationship.
Everett and Maud remind you of the austere couple in Grant Wood’s famous painting American Gothic, the one with the man holding a pitchfork and the woman in her Sunday best (although the simple house in that picture is much grander even than Everett and Maud’s modest shack). The pair lives a modest life but they are enriched by their feelings for one another. Hawke and Hawkins convey this deep, unspoken affection with conviction and it’s to their great credit that they make these humble people so watchable. Hawkins is not just a talented actor, she also painted many of the works seen in the film having had tuition from a teacher skilled in the techniques of the Art Naïve movement in preparation for the role. Production Designer John Hand lovingly recreated The Painted House (as it became known) Maud and Everett lived in because it served as an important metaphor of their relationship – the house became brighter from Maud’s paintings as their love for each other grew. Hand did such a good job that passers-by would stop and wonder why they hadn't ever noticed the house before. Similar care has been taken with every detail of Maudie. It’s as unusual as its subject and just as delightful.