I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this biopic of the Canadian artist Maud Lewis. After all, it is the true story of Lewis (Sally Hawkins) who plays a woman born into poverty, trapped in a body that has been crippled by juvenile arthritis and yet finds joy in the simplist of things. Lewis is thrown out of her home by her brother and sent to live with an aunt in her mid -thirties. Life with the rigid and unfriendly woman is clearly going to be difficult so, in desperation, she answers an ad for a housekeeper to a local fish peddler, Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke). She moves into his house which can’t be more than about 100 square feet only to experience a new level of physical and emotional abuse by Edward. Despite her horrific early existence with him, their relationship builds and they ultimately marry. Maud transends the bleakness of her life by painting everything in sight and through a friendship with a local woman, is able to generate a small business selling greeting cards and paintings on boards for up to $5.00. Her paintings were simple with no shadows but depict happy scenes and lots of flowers.
Sally Hawkins is wonderful as Maud. She captures her disability without overplaying it while maintaining a twinkle in her eye and a wonderful sense of humor. Ethan Hawke is also very good as Everett Lewis although I think the character has been humanized somewhat for the film (at least per some biographies). Even with the “humanizing” of the character, Hawke sees to struggle at times with the cruelty required by the part and it must have been difficult for the actor to take on this role. This is not the buoyant Hawke as we have seen him in Boyhood or the “Before” trilogy and he gives one of the best performances of his career.
The first half of Maudie is dark but slowly her personality and optimism shine through and despite everything in life seemingly going against her, she becomes moderately famous as Canada’s premier folk artist. The starkness of the first half of the movie sets the stage for the more emotionally fulfilling second half as Maud gains some fame and Everett supports her in what becomes more of a love story than the viewer would have thought possible. Maud’s paintings were bright, cheery and as I mentioned, no shadows or sadness existed in any of them. How Maud was able to keep such an optimistic view of the world is hard to comprehend but Hawkins captures this spirit brilliantly. This film is worth seeing.
The Big Sick
The Big Sick could be one of the biggest hits of the summer. It is the true story of Pakistani born Kumail Nanjiani and his real-life love story with Emily Gordon (Zoe Kazan). Kumail is working as a stand-up comic and Uber driver when Emily who is in the audience heckles him. They start dating but Kumail never takes her to meet his traditional Pakistani family as they are dedicated to him taking a Pakistani wife in a traditional arranged marriage. When Emily figures this out, she realizes that there is not a future for them as he would never defy his family. She leaves him and they go on with their lives until Emily suddenly becomes deathly ill and is in a coma in a local hospital. Kumail meets her parents, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter who initially are not receptive to him because of the break-up. However, the three of them develop a strong relationship while maintaining a vigil at her bedside until she ultimately pulls through.
Upon waking from her coma, Emily does not want to start up the relationship but ultimately, it is a romantic comedy and we know the two got together and wrote this screenplay. Romano and Nanjiani play off each other so well in this film and Holly Hunter steals the show whenever she is on screen. Nanjiani’s comedic timing is brilliant and the viewer experiences every heartfelt moment of ups and downs that this couple goes through as they struggle to deal with the messiness of life. The film’s ability to keep us laughing, even when the subject matter is difficult makes it one of the most emotionally satisfying films of the year. Saturday Night Live viewers will appreciate Aidy Bryant’s performance as one of the comics struggling to make a living in the same nightclub as Kumail. I loved Zoe Kazan’s performance which enabled the viewer to buy-in to her character and the love story before she was relegated to a hospital bed on life support for most of the movie. The rest of the cast was great as well.
The Big Sick has just opened in a few theaters but is getting rave reviews and will be expanding over the course of the next few weeks. For those looking for a great Romantic Comedy (and I stress Comedy here), look for this film. It is worth it.