Review: Hawkins, Hawke bring quiet beauty to ‘Maudie’

The biopic on Canadian artist Maud Lewis is a complicated love story with two strong performances at its center

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

A live-in housekeeper with a debilitating disease is living a lonely, depressing life in a tiny seaside Nova Scotia home. One day she picks up a can of mint green paint and she’s transfixed by it. Soon, she’s painting a small tree on an interior wall, and that leads to her covering every surface in the house — windows, walls, stairs, doors — with her artwork. Her art is an escape, it saves her and transports her, and others take notice. Her collectors grow to include Vice President Richard Nixon.

That’s the short, simplified version of “Maudie,” the dour, dignified biopic of Canadian painter Maud Lewis. In it, Sally Hawkins plays Lewis in a performance of quiet power and beauty, of which you expect nothing less from Hawkins. Other actors may try to make Lewis a quirky oddball figure, but Hawkins plays her so low-key that the mechanics fade away and Hawkins seamlessly becomes her subject.

She’s matched by Ethan Hawke, who plays Lewis’ abusive caretaker turned austere husband. Hawke turns in a grunting, inward performance, his steely manner standing in for years of pain, and together Hawke and Hawkins are a formidable pair, skipping the fireworks for small character moments at every turn.

Lewis lived with a form of arthritis that severely affected her mobility, but writer Sherry White and director Aisling Walsh don’t make that the focus of their story. They center on the complicated relationship between Lewis and her husband, and turn “Maudie” into an oddly affecting love story about burying the hurt and trudging forward in the face of pain and finding your own version of happiness.

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Rated PG-13 for some thematic content and brief sexuality

Running time: 115 minutes