The Hawks have soared! Two of the most underrated actors in movies are starring in a film that better have them flying straight to Oscar nominations — Ethan HAWKe and Sally HAWKins. Over the last decade, I’ve been so impressed by Hawke’s interesting and diverse body of work — Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Boyhood, Maggie’s Plan, and playing Chet Baker in Born to be Blue and even directing the interesting documentary Seymour: An Introduction.
Hawkins was great in two Woody Allen movies — Blue Jasmine and Cassandra’s Dream — as well as An Education, Layer Cake, and my favorite — Submarine, a great teen story out of Wales.
In this, Sally Hawkins plays real life Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis. And the fun for me watching this at the Angelika Film Center is, I hadn’t read the press release about the film. That made the emotional stuff sneak up on me, and I was fascinated by the story.
Maud is disabled, and walks hunched over and with a limp. It’s the ‘30s, and she gets screwed over by her older brother (Zachary Bennett), who sells the family house. She’s forced to live with her aunt in a lifestyle reminiscent of Cinderella. When she’s had enough, she answers a job posting from an angry hermit named Everett (Ethan Hawke). He’s looking for a maid, and soon has a slightly worse life with him, but we slowly see them begin to care for each other. He sells fish and firewood, and she does all the chores at the house. Since she’s always loved to paint, she decides to paint flowers and birds all over the walls. Everett tolerates this, and soon she is selling cards and paintings with various rural landscapes and animals.
Everything about this small movie feels grand. The lovely score and songs. The beautifully shot cinematography by Guy Godfree.
The way Maud has so many insults hurled her way, and we see the painful expressions on her face, or the snarky comments she sometimes responds with.
The relationship early on is so dysfunctional it’s hard to take. Yet we’re also seeing affectionate things that warm our heart. Everett putting her in a cart as they walk to town, so she doesn’t have to walk on her bad leg; or him sensing that she’s reluctant to sell a certain painting to a friend (Kari Matchett). He quickly snatches the painting back saying it’s not for sale. Perhaps one of the few flaws in the movie is not showing us that friendship develop, especially since she’s the one that encourages Maud to paint more.
This isn’t the usual art biopic, which after seeing the dreadfully boring Mr. Turner, is probably a good thing.
Coming a few days after we heard that Daniel Day-Lewis retired from acting, it made me think of the first movie I saw him in — My Left Foot (1989). Watching this guy with cerebral palsy use his left foot to paint, reminded me of watching Hawkins paint with severe rheumatoid arthritis. And director Aisling Walsh smartly doesn’t focus only on her disability.
I just read that her tiny home is now preserved at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and a few of her paintings recently sold for around $45,000. Good deal for those that paid $5 for them.
It will be worth you paying the ticket price to see an interesting movie that may have slipped under the radar, and that you’ll be hearing about at awards season.
As my wife and I were leaving the Angelika Film Center, she said a few times on the way home, “Have we seen a better movie this year? I’m going to have to look at a list of what’s come out, but I don’t think we have.”
4 stars out of 5.