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Movie Review

We'd be tempted to pity simple, twisted Maud.

She's different: misshapen from birth defects, bent from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. As she says, "Some people don't like it if you're different." Her family thought her incapable of anything, and when her brother inherited the family home in Nova Scotia, he sold the place off and shipped Maud to their strict Aunt Ida's.

But Maud didn't like Ida's doily-laced prison. So she finds a job elsewhere—as a housekeeper for a surly fish peddler, Everett Lewis, for 25 cents a week. Not much money, true, but it's not much of a house: just a one-room shack with a sleeping loft above. But even so, Everett insists on a strict hierarchy. "First comes me, then the dogs, then the chickens," he tells his new domestic servant. "Then you."

The hierarchy shifts when the two get married, but they never leave that one-room house: No plumbing, no electricity and only a small Franklin stove to ward off the bitter Canadian winters. For more than three decades they live in poverty, surviving and subsisting on Everett's meager earnings and the cash Maud brings in for the paintings she sells at the front of the house—small, juvenile pictures painted on cards and bits of raw, flat wood.

But oh, those paintings—pictures of cats and cows, old-fashioned autos and flat, happy flowers. She never mixed or softened her colors, so each painting hits with a primary pow—covering canvasses in vibrant greens and blues and oranges.

And that one-room house was Maud's canvas, too, with nearly every inch bedecked in flowers and birds. Windows glow with orange petals. Stair risers burst with green and blue and orange.

A hard life? Maybe. "But as long as I got a brush in front of me, I don't care."

Pity Maud? Perhaps. But perhaps we should envy her, too.

Positive Elements

Maud Lewis—based on the real Nova Scotia folk artist who died in 1970—is a remarkable character. Her physical weakness and deformities conceal a woman of iron will and gem-like character.

We see that will early on in her story here, when she decides to leave Aunt Ida's hostile home. She walks into her new living and working arrangement with level-eyed bravery—uncertain of her future but determined to deal with whatever comes. When Everett calls out her limp, she responds that it "don't stop me. I can do the work of five women." And both Everett and the movie audience soon understand that Maud is not a woman to be underestimated.

She becomes Everett's bookkeeper, tracking the credits and debts that Everett never had inclination for. She's a steely negotiator when she needs to be. (When the Nixon White House requested a painting from the real Maud Lewis, she allegedly agreed—if Nixon would pay up front.) She stands up to Everett, who's not always the easiest guy to stand up to. (When Everett confronts her regarding why she's suddenly painting his walls, she says, "You said, 'Make this place look all right.' I think this place looks all right.") And she never lets her own challenges impact the radiant joy manifested in her work.

The ever-grouchy Everett eventually becomes Maud's dutiful husband and, frankly, a staunch fan. Admittedly, he never stops grumbling: When she asks for a screen door (so she can paint by the light of the sun during the summertime without bugs flying in the house), he swears up and down it'll never happen. The next day he hangs a screen door, still scowling. When Maud's painting starts attracting attention (and earning the couple money), Everett tells her that she can't paint at the expense of her chores. Five minutes later, he picks up a broom and starts sweeping—just this one time. (The real Everett eventually adopted all of Maud's original housekeeping chores, it's said.)

Theirs is an odd relationship, and it doesn't always run smoothly. But they do love each other. "We're like a pair of odd socks," she tells him. But somehow, those odd socks complement the other surprisingly well.

After they're married, Maud and Everett hold hands and engage in everyday intimacies. She rides in Everett's fish cart as he pushes it. They take long walks down the road, etc. And while their relationship is far from perfect, in some ways they embody the marriage vows many of have taken: "For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health …"

Spiritual Content

None, really, apart from what's noted in the next section.

Sexual Content

Maud initially accepts a job as Everett's live-in housekeeper, which scandalizes Aunt Ida. "God in heaven!" Ida exclaims. "You are determined to put a blotch on the family tree!" Ida says that the whole town is talking about how Maud's now Everett's "love slave," a characterization that Maud laughs at (and may be flattered by).

At first, the relationship is purely platonic—even as Maud is forced to sleep in Everett's bed in the home's only sleeping quarters. And when Everett does try to make the moves on Maud, she rejects him. "If you're gonna do what you're doing, I think we should get married," she tells him. (She also tells him that she once had a baby out of wedlock—so deformed that it died shortly thereafter. How that baby came about is never addressed.)

Some time later, Everett and Maud again step toward physical intimacy—with Maud actually initiating some of the contact this time. (We see some sexual movements.) But again, even as she rubs his shoulder, she says, "We live together, lay here together, we ought to get married." And so they do, walking out, hand-in-hand from a rustic church.

Violent Content

Everett, especially early on, can be a tyrant. When Maud comes out of the house and makes a wisecrack to a guest, Everett slaps her hard across the face and demands she get back in the shack.

Early in her time as housekeeper, Maud takes a chicken (apologizing to it profusely) and kills it for dinner. We see her place the fowl on a stump with an axe in hand, but the camera looks away before we see the final blow. Elsewhere, Everett totes around a few fish carcasses.

Crude or Profane Language

Five uses of "a--" and one pairing of God's name with "d--n."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Maud smokes cigarettes, and we see her often take a puff or two. (When she develops emphysema, a doctor asks her if she has quit smoking yet. "Sometimes," she says.) We see some people with drinks in their hands at a jazz club.

Other Negative Elements

Maud sneaks out to go to a jazz club. Maud's brother cruelly sells the family home without even telling his sister.

Conclusion

"It's what's on the inside that counts."

We all understand that, right? We tell it to our kids. We read something like it in the Bible (1 Samuel 16:7). We know that how we look or what we drive or how much money we make isn't all that important, really.

But we forget.

Sometimes, I wonder whether we even believe it's true. We look at ourselves in the mirror and don't like what we see. We look at our neighbors and wonder why we can't have what's in their driveway, too. (Or, perhaps, we are those neighbors.) We scroll through our Facebook feeds, see all those smiling faces and sunset beach pictures and feel … inadequate. Unworthy.

The Lord may look at the heart. But honestly, most of us have trouble doing the same.

That's the beauty of Maudie for me.

We look at her from the outside and see weakness—her small, frail body wobbling from place to place. But when we get to know her, her inner strength unfolds like a flower. We see a certain childlike simplicity in her. And yet, there's an intelligence and wisdom within that simplicity.

We look at the outside of Maud's one-room shack—a place smaller than many master bedrooms—and perhaps we'd be forgiven for wondering how anyone could live like that.

And then we open the door.

Dingy, drab walls painted in riots of rainbow—vibrant greens and blues, reds and yellows softened by gentle curves of leaf, flower and wing. Beauty climbing the cupboards, joy running up the stairs.

It's what's on the inside that counts. * It doesn't matter, really, what we think of her paintings—whether we find them surprisingly sophisticated (as some have said) or childishly crude. They're still filled with a kind of childlike *wonder, like a world seen with new eyes.

I walked into Maudie pretty sure of what it would be: sweet, quirky, problematic in places and inspiring in others. It was all that.

But I wasn't expecting to walk away with a new hero: a four-foot-something painter worth looking up to.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Genre

Drama

Author

Cast

Sally Hawkins as Maud Lewis; Ethan Hawke as Everett Lewis; Kari Matchett as Sandra; Zachary Bennett as Charles Dowley; Gabrielle Rose as Aunt Ida

Director

Aisling Walsh ( )

Distributor

Mongrel Media

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

July 7, 2017

On Video

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

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