The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain review: It's a bit full on...

The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain is a bit full on… but Benedict Cumberbatch is on top form as the eccentric who tried to make cats cool

The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain                                    Cert: 12A, 1hr 51mins

Rating:

Licorice Pizza                                                                              Cert: 15, 2hrs 13mins

Rating:

The Humans                                                                                   Cert: 15, 1hr 48mins

Rating:

Let me be honest, I’d never heard of Louis Wain, but as I watched The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain I realised I did recognise his art.

Turns out he’s the chap who did all those drawings and paintings of cats, often with big, supposedly adorable eyes, often engaged in distinctly human-like activities. To be honest again, I never really liked them.

Which might be one of the reasons it took a while to warm to the modest charms of this hyper-energetic biopic.

Whatever you think of Louis Wain’s cat pics, it’s all a bit full-on, all a bit relentless, driven ever forward by big performances from Benedict Cumberbatch (above) as Wain

Whatever you think of Louis Wain’s cat pics, it’s all a bit full-on, all a bit relentless, driven ever forward by big performances from Benedict Cumberbatch (above) as Wain

Whatever you think of Wain’s cat pics – and they do have their admirers – it’s all a bit full-on, all a bit relentless, driven ever forward by a knowing narration and big performances by the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Wain, and Andrea Riseborough as his eldest sister.

Will Sharpe, the talented actor who moves behind the camera here to direct and co-write, has given it plenty creatively, too.

Employing everything from feline subtitles to animated visions of fantasy creatures one-part human and one-part cat, at times he gives it, perhaps, a little too much.

His aim is to convey some of the chaos, confusion and artistic creativity of Wain’s restless mind in a visual and cinematic way, but there’s a constant danger of being off-putting in the well-intentioned process.

There are lovely supporting performances to enjoy, especially from Claire Foy (above, with Cumberbatch) as the spirited and somewhat older governess with whom Wain falls in love

There are lovely supporting performances to enjoy, especially from Claire Foy (above, with Cumberbatch) as the spirited and somewhat older governess with whom Wain falls in love

The underlying story, however, of the eccentric, Victorian-era artist who today might be described as ‘on the spectrum’ or ‘neuro-diverse’ is an interesting one and, at times, really rather moving. 

There are lovely supporting performances to enjoy, especially from Claire Foy as the spirited and somewhat older governess with whom Wain falls in love, and from Toby Jones as his quietly supportive editor and patron on the Illustrated London News.

So it’s not all cats, although there are a lot of them, particularly in the second half as the unworldly Wain begins to pay for his financial naivety and the lifelong challenge of providing financial support for his widowed mother and five unmarried sisters threatens to overwhelm him.

As for the ‘electrical life’ of the title, let’s just say Wain took an artist’s view of this newly harnessed power source rather than a physicist’s and was definitely no Faraday or Tesla. Then again, they probably couldn’t paint cats.

The films of Paul Thomas Anderson are adored by the arthouse crowd and, indeed, by awards juries, though they sometimes struggle to gain a wider audience.

But Licorice Pizza (a title at least partially borrowed from an old Californian record-shop chain) is his most accessible for years, possibly since Boogie Nights – the film that first made him famous – way back in 1997.

Licorice Pizza's pace and gentle tone both suffer slightly as Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper (above) muscle their way in as older, more predatory men

Licorice Pizza’s pace and gentle tone both suffer slightly as Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper (above) muscle their way in as older, more predatory men

It may share the same 1970s setting but Licorice Pizza is a whole lot more wholesome (Boogie Nights, you may recall, was set against the sleazy background of the porn business) dealing, as it does, with first love, namely that between Gary (Cooper Hoffman) a precocious, 15-year-old high-school student and former child actor, and Alana (Alana Haim), a 25-year-old photographer’s assistant.

He bravely asks her out on a date when she’s helping with the taking of his school photograph. Even more bravely, she actually turns up.

There are two important things to say about the film straight away. First is that it has a properly adorable if slightly offbeat quality guaranteed to speed you out into a new film-going year with a warm glow in your heart and a smile on your face.

The second is that Haim – the youngest of the three sisters making up the music group of that name – is absolutely brilliant as the slightly directionless twentysomething who doesn’t know quite why she got involved with Gary and his madcap entrepreneurial schemes but determines to stick along for the ride.

Other things you might like to know are that Hoffman is the son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, a regular Anderson collaborator, which is very touching, and that the pace and gentle tone both suffer slightly as Sean Penn and Bradley Cooper muscle their way in as older, more predatory men.

Nevertheless, with a fabulous soundtrack too, it’s highly recommended.

The Humans, by contrast, is distinctly hard work, a testing ‘mumble-core’ drama adapted from a single-act stage play by Stephen Karam.

The cast includes Richard Jenkins and Amy Schumer (above), and while it’s claustrophobic and mildly scary, it’s also not nearly as groundbreaking as it thinks it is

The cast includes Richard Jenkins and Amy Schumer (above), and while it’s claustrophobic and mildly scary, it’s also not nearly as groundbreaking as it thinks it is

As three generations of a family gather to celebrate Thanksgiving in a dark, empty and seriously dilapidated New York apartment, even darker secrets slowly begin to emerge…

The cast includes Richard Jenkins and Amy Schumer, and while it’s claustrophobic and mildly scary, it’s also not nearly as groundbreaking as it thinks it is.

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