Is there another actor working today with a more sweet and innocent charm than Sally Hawkins?
She burst on the scene as the character Poppy in Mike Leigh’s 2008 film Happy-Go-Lucky, about an impossibly cheerful and exuberantly colorful schoolteacher whose naïve optimism confounded anyone and everyone who came into contact with her, including audiences. In the hands of practically any other actor, a certain willfulness would have been unavoidable, distracting us with the effort behind the performance, but Hawkins never let a hint of stress or strain in having to be upbeat sneak through the seams.
That is not to say that Hawkins has allowed herself to be typecast, hemmed in by this bright and chipper lodestone. She finds and mines curious variations on the theme, always alerting us to the underlying goodness in every character, despite the oppressiveness of their given situations or surroundings. Case in point: Director Aisling Walsh’s Maudie recounts elements from the life of the actual Maud Lewis (played by Hawkins), an arthritic woman assumed, by both her family and the Nova Scotia community in which she resides, to be incapable of taking care of herself.
With no direct intention to prove anyone wrong, Maud settles upon the idea of becoming the housekeeper for a misanthropic fisherman and handyman (Ethan Hawke) living in a tiny shack, where she not only convinces him that she can do the job but also becomes an indispensable part of his life. And she begins to paint pictures with a childlike sense of wonder, attracting a degree of celebrity that would transform the lives of most others.
Hawkins, once again, creates an impenetrable aura of resolute happiness. There is never a moment when we feel that Hawkins downshifts into a sense of contentedness, allowing Maud to become a mere portrait of staid saintliness. We see and appreciate the highs and lows of Maud’s life, thanks to the liveliness and grace in which Hawkins envelops us. (Now playing at the Mariemont Theatre.) (PG-13) Grade: B+