Last night I went to see the TIFF film Maudie, a biopic about the Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis (1903-1970). It's a beautiful movie and Sally Hawkins delivers a pitch-perfect performance as the title character but what really struck me was the script by Sherry White.
Maud Lewis is famed for her paintings - cheerful, primary coloured evocations of rural Nova Scotia and fuzzy cats - but what is truly incredible about her work is the fact that she could create any of it at all. Lewis suffered from birth defects that left her hunch-backed with deformed fingers and a chin that pressed into her chest. As a child she developed juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that worsened over time so that by the end of her life, she was confined to a small corner of her one room cottage where she spent all her time painting by the window, the only available source of light.
But Maudie is not a film about disability. Certainly, Lewis' hobbled walk and odd gait, her crippled hands, these are all present from the start, but her physical limitations aren't the point of the story. If anything, they blend in with all the obstacles of her life - the early loss of both parents, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, poverty, a callous brother and aunt. At its core, Maudie is a love story. Not a love story about a cripple, a love story about an artist and a fish peddler, "two odd socks" thrown together by life. This is so powerful.
Also powerful is the dialogue which was wry and concise and rang true to life. At one point Lewis and her husband have an argument in a car. It's a turning point in the plot, the only real fight the two characters have. And what is fantastic is their dialogue which is at cross purposes. Each character has a different grievance to get off their chest. Everett speaks over Maud; he says one thing but really he means another. She tries to tell him something but can't get the words out. And of course the audience gets it. The careful writing in the script has brought us to a place where we know these characters. We understand the subtext. And the film is stronger for the restraint.