Get ready to leave the theater saying “WTF.”
Some of us — dare I say most of us — don’t know a whole lot about fashion. I don’t, at least. Spending two weeks in Los Angeles made me realize that most of the population likely dresses far better than I do. Watching Phantom Thread escalated all those feelings to a whole other level.
One doesn’t have to understand fashion in order to appreciate Phantom Thread however, just as one doesn’t have to comprehend the oiling industry to spectate There Will Be Blood — because that’s what Paul Thomas Anderson does best. He takes a time period or a career that we may have no collective interest on, and weaves these crazy, absurd character stories that keep us guessing from start to finish.
Phantom Thread is Anderson’s latest film since 2014’s Inherent Vice. Anderson, who has also made such masterpieces as Boogie Nights, Magnolia and The Master, doesn’t make films all that often, so when he does it’s usually one that demands to be seen.
This time, Phantom Thread sees Anderson traveling back to 1950’s London. There we meet Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a stubborn fashion designer.
In one sense, Woodcock is an absolute genius. He’s been creating dresses ever since he was a little boy, and does it better than anyone else in the business. He thrives in paying attention to detail and will only lend his services to those who deserve to wear his clothes. In fact, he’s been so successful that he’s managed to start his own dressmaking company with help from his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville).
However, in another sense, Reynolds can be a nightmare to live with. Dressmaking is his passion, first and foremost. He doesn’t like surprises or intrusions — he has his days down to an exact schedule, and even the slightest interruption could upset the entire thing.
Yet, for better or worse, Reynolds doesn’t want to be alone. Even with all his shortcomings and tendencies, he’s looking for female companionship other than his sister. Or rather, he’s looking for a female that can put up with him for some time.
Which is how Alma (Vicky Krieps) gets thrown into Reynolds’ life. The two meet while Reynolds is away, Alma being a waitress who serves on him. They hit it off, and Alma ends up coming back with Reynolds — with no idea what she’s getting herself in for.
The film then goes on to examine their relationship, the tolls it takes on Alma to put up with such a maniac and just how messed up everyone who is in love can be, all in a very Paul Thomas Anderson type of matter.
To a degree, at least. Phantom Thread is no doubt an Anderson kind of film, and the further it goes on the more and more you start to realize that. However, while Phantom Thread may have similar substance as something like There Will Be Blood, there’s a difference in style.
Phantom Thread, much to my surprise, often takes the form of an absurd comedy of sorts. Not that Daniel Day-Lewis is out there cracking jokes, but there’s humor that derives from some of the awkward or absurd situations that the characters are put in. The whole movie has a very off-putting type of feel to it, and Anderson manages to translate that unease into an uncomfortable farcical.
An uncomfortable farcical that still has a lot to stay about craft and love and all that. Much of the drama from Phantom Thread comes from the relationship between Reynolds and his dressmaking, and Reynolds and Alma. While we, as humans, generally like to watch movies in which people are good at what they do (think the whole Breaking Bad theory), we also can’t help but feel bad for poor Alma. The result is a topsy-turvy kind of film that is constantly throwing us in new directions, while making us question the way we act when in a relationship of our own.
And it’s incredible gorgeous to look at to boot. Phantom Thread is bound to be nominated for all kinds of costume and setting design awards at the Oscars this year, as every frame of the film is impeccably crafted. There’s beauty in the dresses, the camera work, the score by Jonny Greenwood and everything in between.
It’s impossible to overlook the performances in Phantom Thread as well. It goes without saying that Daniel Day-Lewis delivers another incredible performance, as he does in every role he takes on. Like Anderson, Lewis doesn’t appear in the spotlight very often, so when he does it’s important to take note. Lewis has also announced that Phantom Thread will be his last film as he’s now retiring from acting. While we’ll wait to see if that holds true (I have a hard time imagine him saying no if PTA approaches him with another incredible script in 10 years), Phantom Thread is a near perfect swan-song for him to go out for.
The other major standout is that of Vicky Krieps, an actor I was not aware of up until this point. Phantom Thread isn’t just Daniel Day-Lewis’ story, it’s a story about how he exists with Vicky Krieps’ character — meaning she has just as much to do and delivers just as good of a performance as Lewis does.
Phantom Thread is not going to be a movie for everyone. If you saw the trailer and thought ‘mmm, not for me,’ you’re probably right. They aren’t lying to you when they say it’s a 130 minute long about a fashion designer, and there are a few moments when you feel that runtime. However, for Anderson fans and film enthusiast in general, there’s a lot to reap out of Phantom Thread. You’re going to leave with your hand in your heads, wondering how everything lead up to that ending, but — really, that’s kind of what you want out of an Anderson movie, isn’t it?
Watch the trailer for Phantom Thread here, and let us know what you thought of the movie in the comments below!
A very tightly knit relationship: 'Phantom Thread' review9