2017 may be the year we witness peak biopic fatigue as it has become the most exhausted genre, second only to the superhero movie. The formulaic rise and fall story has been churned out for almost every artistic personality of the last 200 years and has left Hollywood asking where to next? One way of excelling in the tired biopic world is by allowing the content to shape form, taking inspiration from the subject’s personality to create the look and feel of the film. Maudie has managed to execute this idea perfectly.
Maudie tells the story of folk-art legend Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins), a Nova-Scotia woman born in the early 1900s who was diagnosed with crippling arthritis from birth. Her condition is so extreme that she is deemed totally incapable of taking care of herself, although her bold personality soon proves her doubters wrong. Lewis begins to express herself through art, depicting the rural lifestyle in vivid, grassroots painting and objets d’art. She marries local fisherman Everett (Ethan Hawke), and they live a quiet life together as her condition worsens but her fame in the art world expands.
Sally Hawkin’s performance is beautifully arresting, she captures the artist’s joie de vivre even as her spine crumples and her body implodes as time goes on. Her vocal transformation from mousy squeak to baritone drawl complements her perfect display of rural, Canadian twang. Ethan Hawke plays with the “opposites attract” dynamic expertly as the laconic, rugged and devoted husband, Everett.
The film hinges on a visual twist: once Maudie learns to overcome her adversity through creativity, the rustic surroundings take on a more vivid hue and are elevated by her transformative art. The couple’s drab shack is rendered glorious by her paint and her insatiable love of colour.
Maudie is not a biopic driven by the event horizons or dramatic twists that we’re used to – drug addiction, crime, divorces. Rather, it is in no hurry to tell its story; it dwells on the meditative moments much like Lewis’s art. Director Aisling Walsh’s film may burn slowly but it certainly burns brightly and warmly, leaving the audience washed in a pleasant radiance.
Maudie does not have a UK release date yet.
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