There’s an indelibly warm and tender tone to Aisling Walsh’s real-life drama Maudie, albeit one spiked with a deep sadness and profundity. Finding a compatible balance between the two, there’s no denying the Irish director’s latest is a moving piece of cinema – it just plays a little safe, as the sort of title you’d be thrilled to stumble across on the telly on a Sunday evening, but not one you’d necessarily need to indulge in on the big screen.
Set in Nova Scotia, we meet Maud (Sally Hawkins), eavesdropping on a conversation between her brother and auntie, as they deliberate over what to do with her. For Maud arthritis and a hunched back, and has been treated like an outsider ever since she can remember. Wanting to keep herself occupied, she responds to an advert to be a housemaid at the humble abode of the introverted, proud Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke) – and though apprehensive at first, he reluctantly agrees, and from thereon the pair form an unlikely relationship, and they marry. To call Maud and Everett chalk and cheese would be something of an understatement, but they have a silent language between them – and the latter supports Maud’s dreams to paint, which, and in spite of her condition, she does in her spare time. She’s got a real talent too, and soon people start to get wind, and Everett’s isolated home becomes the focus of attention, with punters queuing round the block to get their hands on Maud’s art – and it’s not what he signed for up.
Though gentle in its approach, Maudie is a film that survives off the lead performances from Hawkins and Hawke, the former in particular standing out. Much will be said of her physicality and the way she embodies this role; how she holds a paintbrush, or walks down the street. But it’s her eyes that are more expressive, with a sadness behind them as we feel her anguish and the years of pain she carries on her shoulders. But then when she smiles it lights up the room, and you feels it’s so earnest and sincere in its conviction.
Hawke impresses too, though needless to say he takes longer to appreciate as a character, for the way he treats Maud at times is reprehensible. But, and like many movies of this nature (Scent of a Woman comes to mind – except where Pacino shouts, Hawke is more prone to grunting) we always know he’ll soften up at the end. Yet in spite of our own reservations about him, it becomes apparent that he makes dear little Maudie happy – and given the emotional investment we have in the role, and just how completely in love with her we become – that’s pretty much all we care about, which lets him off the hook.