Biopics can sometimes be an unusual animal, but films like “Maudie” are especially interesting because the subject is a little known person with a smaller scale story. The film tells the abbreviated life story of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis, a disabled woman with an emotionally abusive husband who found her calling by painting cheerful scenes of rural life in Nova Scotia.
Sally Hawkins, as with most everything she does, is good in the role as the titular character. While her performance is being lauded, it does feel at times that she’s overplaying the artist. Her exaggerated eccentricities are so over the top that I thought the actual subject was mentally handicapped (she wasn’t). The real stellar performance here is from Ethan Hawke as Everett, Maud’s curmudgeonly and abusive husband. Hawke gives this man, who has a serious mean streak as well as a devastating bitterness, a tiny glimpse of likeability — even when he slaps Maud around for speaking out of turn. That takes skill.
The film is technically a romance but it’s certainly not of the fairy tale variety. The dysfunctional, emotionally and sometimes physically abusive relationship between the couple makes the movie hard to enjoy. The pair lived like near recluses in a plain, decrepit house on the outskirts of town, living a simple life that feels trapped in the past.
In fact, there are periods of time where audiences must guess the actual year when the story is taking place. The film cleverly shows the passage of time in the most subtle of ways, where the only clues are the cars on the street when the pair head into town, the dogs that are no longer barking in the yard, or the crummy looking aging makeup with fake wrinkles and greying hair (“Maudie” isn’t going to win any awards for its makeup).
While Maud’s story is interesting enough, the film suffers from distracting, sluggish pacing. The narrative becomes burdened with too much melodrama and a late hour “twist” that feels hollow. While this isn’t a bad movie and the acting is on point, the story just isn’t compelling enough to overcome the problems with the filmmaking.