There’s a certain distaste to director Will Sharpe‘s “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain,” a too-quirky take on the true story of an eccentric British artist whose playful pictures of cats helped transform the public’s perception of the animals. In what could have been a sincere celebration of a living-on-the-fringes outsider who found an unconventional way to connect with society, the film instead buries the seriousness of the artist’s mental illness under off-putting eccentricity.
During the late 1800s to the 1930s, Victoria-era artist Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch) lived his life as the very definition of a complicated creative. Bouncing all over the place with ideas and grand schemes, he sought to unlock the “electrical” mysteries of the world. Wain began to support his five sisters and widowed mother by selling drawings of animals at the fair, where his talents were noticed by many. This started a career of painting cats in human-like situations.
Cumberbatch is terrific in the role as expected, portraying the man with a deep-rooted manic energy. It’s sad to watch as Louis has a steady breakdown, as it’s clear he was suffering from an assortment of undiagnosed mental illnesses. The film becomes disturbing as we see a glimpse of what goes on in his head, like vivid dreams of drowning, or passing strangers on the street but picturing them with giant, psychedelic cat heads.
While the cinematography is lovely, the film is super slow and takes what feels like forever to get to the point. The pacing is a big problem, even for cat lovers (it takes a long time for any felines to make their appearance). When stripped of its manufactured whimsy, “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” is just another conventional biopic.
This film was screened for review at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
By: Louisa Moore