Sally Hawkins’ extraordinary performance drives the unusual biographical drama Maudie, the story of  folk artist Maud Lewis. Afflicted with a variety of physical ailments, we meet Maud in her 30s when she’s still living with her waspish aunt, who endures her presence only because Maud’s unfeeling brother pays her. The time is 1938 and the setting is a small, remote fishing village in Nova Scotia. Another of the local misfits—to put it mildly—is fish peddler Everett Lewis, played with conviction by Ethan Hawke. He is the oddest of oddballs, an orphan who had his cabin moved by oxen to be away from people in town. When he posts a hand-written note in the general store asking for a cleaning woman Maud steals the piece of paper so no one else will see it. By applying for the job she escapes the dead-end life she’s living with her aunt and seizes her one chance for independence.

Maudie is the most unconventional love story I’ve ever seen. Maud is indomitable, in spite of everything life has thrown at her, but Everett is unremittingly gruff, even cruel. He puts up with Maud because she refuses to leave; she endures his misanthropic manner because she has no choice.

I don’t know how close to the truth Sherry White’s script may be, but this much is true: Maud Lewis had a compulsion to paint and began to attract attention for her childlike folk art. Her hobby eventually blossomed into a career. Director Aisling Walsh and her team replicated the tiny, unheated house where the couple lived for decades, its walls and windows covered with Maud’s artwork. The original resides on the grounds of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

I marvel at Sally Hawkins’ empathetic performance in its physicality as well as its soulful sincerity. Yet I never quite forgot I was watching an actress at work, and I would say the same for Ethan Hawke, who tightens his face into a permanent scowl in order to capture the severity of his character. They both give their all for this movie and while I admire their efforts I also found myself at arm’s length.

Maudie scores high for good intentions and solid work by its stars. Its story is one-of-a-kind but I wish I hadn’t felt so conscious of the wheels turning as it unfolded.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024