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TIFF 2016: And Then There's Maudie, the Best Artist You Probably Never Heard Of


Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins star in Maudie. - MONGREL MEDIA
  • Mongrel Media
  • Ethan Hawke and Sally Hawkins star in Maudie.
In the small fishing village of Marshalltown in the Canadian Maritime province of Nova Scotia, there's a house—more of a one-room shanty, really—that is a wonder to behold. It's known to townsfolk as "the painted house out of town and down the road a wee bit." Nearly every inch of the house, inside and out, is decorated with paintings of birds or flowers. 

To the world, it's the house where Maud Lewis lived. If you don't know Maud, or "Maudie" as most people knew her, you soon will. The new film, Maudie, starring the always-amazing Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky), is certain to generate new interest in the woman who battled physical disability, poverty and disregard from most of her family until she became a painter whose work ultimately found its way to the White House.

Maudie is the gentlest of art house films and will require discerning audiences to discover and appreciate it. When they do, I trust Hawkins' performance will be recognized as one of the best of the year. The question is, "Which year?"  

When asked when Maudie might make its way to U.S. theaters, the film's production team said it hadn't been sold to a U.S. distributor. But if one of the major studios has any sense, they'll snatch up this winner and put it in theaters this fall for award consideration. Judging by the rousing applause it garnered at the Toronto International Film Festival, the film would be surefire Oscar contender.

Born with severe arthritis, Maudie lived much of her life with her ornery fish peddler husband Everett Lewis (a fine Ethan Hawke). His one-room house became Maudie's studio and, in spite of Everett's nonchalance about her paintings, they soon became popular with passersby.

Maudie and Everett were an unlikely pair; but, considering they were unlikely as singles, it was probably destiny that they found one another. In the end, Maudie is less about art than it is about love.

After Maudie's death in 1970, the Lewis' house outside Marshalltown fell into disrepair—that is, until the government of Nova Scotia took over the structure and spruced it up. Now it is one of the province's proudest landmarks. More important, some of Maudie's paintings hang in the finest galleries on the planet. Now her life can be celebrated just as widely.