Set in the glamour of 1950’s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutantes and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love. With his latest film, Paul Thomas Anderson paints an illuminating portrait both of an artist on a creative journey, and the women who keep his world running. Phantom Thread is Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth movie, and his second collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis.
I FINALLY got to see Phantom Thread. I’ve heard a lot of good, and an equal amount of bad about Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest feature. Generally, I was interested in Phantom Thread based on the talent involved, and as it is supposedly the last movie that Daniel Day Lewis will star in. However, I was pretty disappointed with what I saw, if anything I applaud the sheer audacity that this film operates with.
Daniel Day Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock who is this high end dress maker. He is the kind of person that you want to probably meet once and never talk to again. The film does a great job, of laying out his worldview, and also how he sees and treats others. He like to be in control of most everything in his life, and while he does feel the need for companionship, he will never admit it. Lesley Manville plays Woodcock’s sister, she is stern, resourceful, and most importantly knows exactly how he likes to live his life. We see early on that Woodcock will go through women rather quickly, and then kick them out when he feels they have become a burden to his work. When Alma, who is played by Vicky Krieps enters his life she won’t let him lose feelings for her. She isn’t afraid to bring him down a peg, but the manner in which she does so is what bothers me about Phantom Thread.
This film is immaculately well made by Paul Thomas Anderson. It is also incredibly well acted by Daniel Day Lewis (of course), Lesley Manville, and Vicky Krieps. All of the issues with Phantom Thread derives straight from its narrative. The character work done in Phantom Thread is pretty great. Mostly, with Woodcock but with others as well you can really get inside their mind and see what they are thinking. The problem with the development is that eventually a character makes a choice that goes against everything that we have learned about them up to that point. It really contradicted the movie for me, and while I can see it working for some people, it just didn’t for me. Phantom thread is focused on being this high art piece, and for the most part it is, but this decision makes it feel like something else. If this twist was not so out of left field and so hard to grasp, perhaps Phantom Thread might have worked for me.
Phantom Thread was never a chore to watch, as I imagined it might be. It is hard to take away the achievement that is the direction and performances of Phantom Thread. It didn’t quite work for me, but it might for some. The film seemed to undercut and contradict itself into less of a high art achievement. This is very well acted and directed movie, with a narrative twist that is a quite the risk that really didn’t pay off.