The first two Oscar-worthy performances of 2017 belong to Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke for their heartbreaking and memorable portrayals of Maud and Everett Lewis in "Maudie".
Though gnarled by Juvenile Arthritis, beginning around the age of four in 1907, Maud Dowley Lewis went on to become one of North America's preeminent Art Naive painters. It is craft which is created by a person lacking formal education and training in all facets of art.
We are introduced to Maud in 1938, as she is being left behind at her Aunt Ida's (Gabrielle Rose) house in Digby, Nova Scotia by her less-than-loving brother, Charles Dowley (Zachary Bennett). Charles has sold the family home without Maud's knowledge, and is now forcing her to remain with Ida, whom he is paying to care for Maud.
But Maud craves independence, and answers an ad for a job as a housekeeper for an ill-tempered bachelor named Everett Lewis (Hawke), who resides in a 10' by 12' house on the side of a dirt road. Though he immediately dismisses her house-tending skills, Maud has nowhere else to go, relegating Everett to give her a chance.
Maud has always loved painting, and what begins with one colorful shelf and a few flowers and birds on the walls blossoms into an artistry which sustains this amazing woman with great happiness as her health continues to decline.
Directed by Aisling Walsh, who knew she wanted to make this film as soon as she finished the masterful screenplay by Sherry White, "Maudie" is a work of art itself. Walsh and her director of photography, Guy Godfree, have captured the majestic landscapes and seascapes around which Maud and Everett built their life together with a palette worthy of any painter. To state that "Maudie" is a gorgeous film is an understatement --- it's simply magnificent.
Hawkins is beyond perfection with her startling and ultimately effective transformation into Maud. We've seen other actors do this before, most notably Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawkins in "The Theory of Everything" (2014), and Hawkins' performance is no less dramatic.
Everett was a contentious soul, allowing Hawke the opportunity to play a character who is not always very nice. When Everett berates poor Maud, it's cringe-worthy, and Hawke doesn't shy away from the brutality of it. And yet, the scene of the newlyweds dancing in their loft, with Maud gliding along as her twisted feet rest on Everett's, is as moving and real as any love scene.
Hawke is certainly one of the best actors of his generation, so perhaps this role will finally garner him that elusive Oscar. They both deserve a nomination.
"The Little House" in which Maud and Everett lived for over 30 years is on display in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, which houses most of her work. Walsh and set designer, John Hand, duplicated the structure, allowing for a little more room for shooting purposes.
Her art is so wonderfully colorful and Hawkins spent much of 2015 preparing for this role by taking painting lessons, even creating some of the pieces use in "Maudie". Maud was made famous by a 1965 TV special on her and her work. But, hopefully "Maudie" will inspire a whole new generation to seek her out and discover anew her timeless paintings.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
You know a movie has fully developed its characters when you leave the theatre and remember the key players' names. "Maudie" features Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins), Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose), Sandra (Kari Matchett) and Charlie (Zachary Bennett) --- and they're all splendid in their roles.
"Maudie" is a sweet, sweet film that demonstrates love can come in all shapes and sizes, and all walks of life. Material wealth is not a prerequisite for fulfilling emotional needs. The two leads offer Oscar-worthy performances, although Hawke could conceivably end up in the Best Supporting Actor category. Everett appears to be a self-sufficient loner, but eventually he comes to depend upon Maud for just about everything. Hawke is mesmerizing as we watch his transformation.
Hawkins' masterful portrayal is clearly the centerpiece of the movie. Her depiction of Maud is equal parts physical and verbal. We believe her body is degenerating into a gnarled mass of arthritis, causing her great pain. Yet she continues to wield her paintbrush, and her mind remains sharp as a tack. It will take five astounding performances to keep Hawkins off Oscar's short list.
"Maudie" has so many special moments. I loved Sandra, the new "summertime" neighbor from New York who takes a real liking to Maud and her artwork. When Sandra doubles Everett's asking price for Maud's hand-drawn postcards, we are immediately smitten by her humanity. The lovely Matchett lights up the screen every time.
Then there is the heartbreaking episode when Maud learns the truth about her baby. The brief sex scenes are beautifully handled, and prove that sexual desire does not necessarily belong only to beautiful people.
The sound track by Michael Timmins features at least a couple of superb vocals. And one example of cinematographer Guy Godfree's wonderful work is a silhouette shot of Everett pushing his wheelbarrow on a hillside, as Maudie sits in it, facing him.
So here we have yet another gem of a small film amidst all the blockbusters. "Maudie" is not to be missed.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!