Maud (Sally Hawkins), an arthritic young woman who is never truly treated as an adult by her aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose) and her brother Charles (Zachary Bennett), longs for her freedom. To achieve her goal, Maud becomes the live in housekeeper of the surly and cantankerous Everett (Ethan Hawke), and in their small house in Nova Scotia love and Maud’s ability to paint are nurtured.
Based on the life of Nova Scotian folk artist Maud Lewis, Maudie is a charming film, completely carried by the strong and compelling performances from Hawkins and Hawke. The trouble arises in a saccharine sweet soundtrack that tries to paper over some of the cracks in the film, and a lack of focus in the story.
Sally Hawkins leads the cast as the tenacious, charming and sweet Maud. It is easy to believe that Maud is a character who is just rebellious enough to find the confines of her aunt’s house stifling, but there is a lot more going on underneath the surface of Hawkins’ performance. Hawkins makes Maud a likeable, tough and wilful character, who knows what she wants and what she will tolerate; a character who begins to knock the rough edges off her anti-social husband. Ethan Hawke obviously has fun with the character of Everett, constantly looking as though ht is chewing a particularly angry wasp, and irresistibly charmed by the tiny woman who has forced her way into his life. The two work well together on screen, with Hawkins knocking the rough edges of Hawke, and the chemistry between them lighting the film up from within.
Experienced TV writer Sherry White – who has episodes of Orphan Black, Saving Hope and Rookie Blue under her belt – has created a screenplay for Maudie that utterly focuses on the tenacity of the title character. Although Maud is a fantastic character, and the relationship between Maud and Everett on screen is a beautiful one, there are times when the film loses focus, and it is not clear if the story is one of love, one of acceptance or one of just not taking no for an answer. The dialogue is strong, however, with Maud having some smart and quick comebacks that bring the character to life.
As director Aisling Walsh – who previously brought us Song for a Raggy Boy, The Magdalen Laundry and episodes of Fingersmith – focuses all of her energy on the relationship between Maud and Everett, but in doing so, allows some of the sub plot points to rear their heads and then fall by the wayside. This means that every so often, the focus is taken away from the central characters lives together, but not for any satisfying reason, leaving the audience wondering just why these issues were raised in the first place. Add to this a saccharine sweet score and an unnecessary montage set to music, and the shine quickly rubs off this charming and engaging film.
In all, Maudie is a film that suffers from a lack of focus when it comes to the story, and it is never clear just what the central theme of the film is. That said, Hawkins and Hawke are fantastic together, and a joy to watch on screen, but a stronger focus could have moved Maudie from a curiosity to a strong and moving film.