REVIEW: ‘I’m An Electric Lampshade’ (2021) Has A Weak Spark of Life

Rating: 1 out of 5.

The film never commits to telling any particular story, or to having any particular style.

I’m an Electric Lampshade is not as exciting as its title, but it is similarly an enigma. The film seems from one angle to be a documentary, and looks at the transformation of an office worker called Doug (Doug McCorkle) who, at the point of retirement, decides to cast off his conservative image and pursue performance. However, it dives quite frequently into obvious reconstructions and full-on fictional sections, and a cursory search online suggests that Doug’s story is not true. Much of this film is bewildering, even though there are some interesting ideas that deserve to be explored.

Whether it’s true or not, the film does have all the material for a good story. Doug is clearly an average office worker at the start, and his transformation into someone self-assured is startling. The newly-minted singer ends up abroad (the film bizarrely neglecting to say where) at a school for performers, and his abilities and potential push him towards success. There are some deeper, more challenging themes swirling around, too, with Doug’s privilege coming slightly into question and the neglect of his wife, who is still in the United States.

A middle-aged bald man stands in the center of a room, smiling with his arms crossed. He is surrounded by dancers, with faces hidden as they wear dark blue hoodies with yellow stripes. Two young people stand by him, holding up objects that look like bees.
Image courtesy of October Coast / Strike Media

It’s a very awkwardly structured film though, and this seems a glaring error in an age where people are spoilt for choice of well-crafted documentaries. The film doesn’t even show what sort of performer Doug is until late in the running time, making the stunned comments on his achievements by ex-colleagues ineffective at piquing the audience’s curiosity. The lack of clarity becomes much greater, and much more frustrating, as the story is increasingly told through odd dream sequences and unexpectedly surreal character moments. It moves from the realm of documentary to that of a jankily put together drama, which negates any human interest that the less fabricated beginning eventually starts to create.

There’s a lack of a clear sense of decision on whether the film should feel like truth, fiction, or something in between, and this leaves the actors adrift. Doug is quite charismatic and largely seems in documentary mode, allowing the audience to connect with his humanity in this unusual situation. He’s a fish out of water, though, as the rest of the actors lack his naturalism and general ease being filmed: their performances are often heightened when the camera is supposedly a fly on the wall. It’s a shame since there are a fair few moments that could be insightful or affecting, but poor direction makes them close to cringe-inducing instead.

Perhaps I’m An Electric Lampshade would be a more tightly constructed film if it knew what it was trying to say. The obvious takeaway is that a person can change their life at any age, and this is the main message the film tries to leave its audience with. Other important subjects are briefly touched upon, the film criticising Doug’s abandonment of his wife and hinting at the plight queer people face outside the U.S. Doug is rich enough to jet off from the U.S. for performance school, and he receives a dressing-down for this. He also feels guilt about leaving home that is largely manifested in bizarre dream interludes. These subjects are forgotten about, however, by the filmmakers at what is meant to be a triumphant conclusion to the story, missing the possibility of giving emotional truth to what the audience is seeing. Abandoning these ideas leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and it’s hard to be enthused by Doug’s story with all these darker elements of his experience playing out in the background.

A middle-aged man with black over his eyes and black gloves. The lower half of his body is wrapped in something, and the background is obscured by smoke.
Image courtesy of October Coast / Strike Media

There’s not much time given to providing background to anyone, and viewers don’t even learn that much about Doug. He’s presented as someone who simply follows a whim he has had for an indeterminate amount of time, and that leads him towards an accidental success that clearly isn’t just his own. It’s damning enough that virtually nothing of the people who manage to make an only vaguely talented, untrained man a success is shown. Doug’s success ultimately feels hollow, then, because when he appears in the grand finale we don’t understand his path, but simply a cardboard cutout of a white, conservative, American family man.

The film spends so much time focused on Doug’s music at the end that it seems like some vanity project. While it’s intended to be inspiring, and has plenty of worthwhile subplots that are tantalisingly suggested, the film never commits to telling any particular story, or to having any particular style. and this results in an almost consistently awkward viewing experience that doesn’t lead to anywhere of note. There is little entertainment value to be gained from I’m An Electric Lampshade, largely because the filmmakers don’t seem to have any understanding of how to use their own material. Most damningly, there’s so little substance in the finished product that it can’t even justify its existence.

Header Image Courtesy of October Coast / Strike Media

Director: John Clayton Doyle

Producer(s): Doug McCorkle, Jacob Krupnick

Cast: Doug McCorkle, Regina McCorkle, Cesar Valentino, Isra Jeron Ysmael, Darnell Bernard

Release Date: 18 June 2021 (UK)

Available On: various festivals, wide release TBD