TIFF Review: 'The Electrical Life of Louis Wain' Can Haz a Sweet Love Story, but the Cats Are a Bit Much Directed by Will Sharpe

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Foy, Andrea Riseborough, Toby Jones, Adeel Akhtar
TIFF Review: 'The Electrical Life of Louis Wain' Can Haz a Sweet Love Story, but the Cats Are a Bit Much Directed by Will Sharpe
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Sometimes I look at my two cats, Stripes and Dusty, and marvel at how strange it is that I allow these two small, furry, troublemaking predators to prowl around my home, knocking things off shelves and scratching the furniture while I dutifully feed them and clean up their poop. The reason, of course, is because I love them, and apparently Victorian artist Louis Wain is at least partially to blame for my devotion to my peculiar little roommates.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain stars Benedict Cumberbatch in the latest of his many depictions of brilliant, socially awkward Brits. He's an aspiring inventor who is obsessed with electricity and dabbles in experimental music, but he makes his money as a newspaper illustrator. He scandalously marries his sisters' governess Emily (Claire Foy), and the couple adopt a kitten after Emily is diagnosed with cancer, despite cats being fairly uncommon house pets at the time.

Wain's paintings of cats — which became more anthropomorphic and psychedelic with the onset of his schizophrenia — birthed the modern cat meme. This brilliant piece of feline PR transformed kitties from rodent hunters into the ridiculous little fluffos we regard them as today.

The film works nicely as a tragic love story, its first half devoted to Wes Andersonian foppishness and adorkable romance. But The Electrical Life loses direction in the second half, as the intensely stylized depiction of schizophrenia and wacky cat depictions quickly grow tiresome. Even the inclusion of a couple surprising celeb cameos can't keep the second half from dragging. I can haz some disappointment after such a touching beginning.

The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 9 to 18. Get info about in-person and online screenings at the festival website. (Amazon Studios)