Maudie is hit-or-miss, but you'll probably bawl anyway. Its creators have elected to dramatize nothing but the things that traditional narrative features usually botch. The film, directed by Aisling Walsh, surveys the life of a beloved artist, Nova Scotia's self-taught folk painter Maud Lewis, who produced scores of cheerily primitive -- and marvelously composed -- studies of her world, despite the pain she suffered whenever she held a brush. Rheumatoid arthritis in her youth had left Lewis' hands and shoulders twisted in on themselves. That means the filmmakers face not only the pressing challenges of dramatizing artistic creation while reducing the complex sprawl of a life to a cozy three-act structure. They have to do so while honoring the reality of Lewis's disability.
That they at least achieve this much is a testament to Sally Hawkins, who plays Maud as a tiny, peppery fighter, her shoulders hunched in but her eyes defiant and her smile quick and wild. But the script, by Sherry White, tends to hit one note per scene, showing Maud beleaguered or abused or hopeful or content; only occasionally do the filmmakers hit a complex chord. Ethan Hawke's role, as Everett, Lewis' brooding and sometimes brutish husband, doesn't demand much of him besides confusion, rages and signaling -- through stiff and wary kindness -- that Maud was right about whatever Everett and she had been arguing about several scenes before. Still, as Lewis weakens, the home around her bursts from farm-shack dreariness to full Oz color: Her vibrant flowers, like Hawkins' ebullience, are a springtime of the heart.