If you are like me, a humble movie critic, you also have never heard of the name Louis Wain in your life. Are they a fashion designer? That was my first bet. But the movie does use the word electric. So maybe he was an inventor? Maybe he is someone made up because movies are allowed to tell fiction stories if they feel like it. It could be a new super hero, Electricity Man.
It turns out The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is about an artist. Did he use electricity in his art? No, not really. But he did love to draw portraits of cats. And cats doing things. And cats being silly. A cats doing cats stuff.
Alright, sounds like a good enough reason for a movie to me. Deal? Deal.
Ah yes, the perfect family.
Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch), is a typical “eccentric artist” who can barely function being a person, but does good art so people like his quirks. He is from a big family, with a lot of sisters, and supposed to be making that money, but finding a job is hard for him. You know. Because he is out there, or whatever.
But he does get a job a local newspaper finally, to do quick sketches, and they like that his stuff is on time, quality and that he doesn’t really make a fuss or gossip. But the paper owner (Toby Jones) wants to put a two page spread in a special insert of cat drawings, and that? Well that really gets popular.
Wain’s name becomes as do his original cat paintings and sketches. But that doesn’t get him out of the poor house, or out of the gossip columns, as someone who married the teacher (Claire Foy) for his sisters, what a scandal. He just wanted to do his art thing and hang out with cats though, so a kindred spirit with a lot of us now. I guess, according to the movie, his artwork helped people like cats more and start keeping them actively as pets and bringing them in the house? I don’t know anything about cat history, so sure, why not.
Why send dick pics when you could send cat pics instead?
Louis Wain was a troubled artist in some amount, that much we know. But do we need another troubled artist film? Not really. And definitely not if the focus of the film barely goes into it.
To me, the filmmakers treated Wain’s “quirks” as something amusing or even, quaint, and the fact that any sort of real psychological problems that someone had was ignored or made to seem terrifying. Later in life he was in a mental institution for schizophrenia, and critics could “see it in his artwork” whereas in the last twenty years there have been claims that clearly he was just Autistic and society sucked. And I don’t think this film dealt with that in any meaningful way at all. It did make sure we knew that people gossiped though, and that he had a hard time dealing with people.
Maybe it is just me, but the “quirks” he had seem like the closest thing to an antagonist in this film, because they are what prevented him from being an ultra successful painter that everyone knew, who was rich, versus a famous person who lived in squalor because of society. Case in point, they called this film “The Electrical Life of” to note his love/obsession with electricity, which I assume isn’t made up for a movie. But his life itself didn’t feel electrical at all in the movie that had this title.
Cumberbatch was fine in this movie, Foy was barely in it, and none of the other characters mattered enough to me to warrant speaking about.
I actually think the art itself though is pretty damn cool. And again, not sure if it warrants its own movie given how poorly they treat his life just to tell his story. There isn’t anything I can really take away from this movie except his name as the guy who drew cat pictures in the 1800’s/1900’s that I probably have seen at some point in my life.