Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Running Time: 130 Minutes
Rating: R for More F Bombs Than Expected
Release Date: December 25, 2017 (Limited)
In the beginning of Phantom Thread, Reynolds Woodcock’s muse and lover Alma (Vicky Krieps) describes him as “the most difficult man.” Such a definitive claim could potentially set us up for disappointment, but if anything, it turns out to be a bit of an understatement. So then the issue could bethat the dialogue is too on-the-nose, but that is not a problem with a lead actor and a director as precise as Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson are. And that precision is really what this film is about. The story of a dressmaker, no matter how legendary, strikes me as a rather niche attraction, but it should be known that Phantom Thread is primarily the (love?) story of two stubborn people butting up against each other.
If you are a fan of P.T. Anderson, or cinema in general, but do not have strong feelings towards fashion, you might be comforted to know that the focus is on the relationships. But you may soon find yourself discomforted by how discordant those relationships are. Or you might find all that hilarious. This is definitely an example of the rarely seen prestige cringe comedy, and I cringed more than I guffawed, though I appreciated the craft and the crack comic timing.
The setting is 1950s London, but due to the lack of electric devices in Reynolds Woodcock’s house, it feels like it could be decades earlier. Reynolds and the waitress Alma are quite smitten with each other, so he takes her into his home as his muse, in-house model, and soon enough, lover. Cyril (Lesley Manville), his sister and assistant, is on hand to make sure everything remains in tip-top shape in the wake of this new arrival. While at first there appears to be a genuine spark between Reynolds and Alma, it does not take long for there to be troubling signs. He casually drops some remarks about her imperfections, while she surprisingly enough has the gumption to give as good as she gets. But instead of maintaining her dignity, this results in the two of them butting up against each other with their shared obstinacy. Yet she manipulates him towards marriage, while I quietly scream that they need to cut their losses and run away from each other.
This definitely falls into the category of films I admire but do not particularly enjoy. The characters are marvelously realized, but too bullheaded to be pleasant for any extended period. I think that intimate exposure of imperfections is the point, and there is certainly a lot of room to appreciate that, but preferably from a safe distance.
Phantom Thread is Recommended If You Like: The Devil Wears Prada, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Witnessing the painstaking creative process
Grade: 3.75 out of 5 Measurements