Phantom Thread (2017)
Phantom Thread (2017)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 10 min.

Release Date: December 25th, 2017 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville, Sue Clark, Joan Brown, Harriet Leitch, Dinah Nicholson, Julie Duck, Camilla Rutherford




aybe he’s the most demanding man.” Reynolds Jeremiah Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) frequently gets lost in his work as a fine clothier in London. His obsession with his craft is so absorbing that his various love interests are regularly ignored – until they give up attempting to maintain a mutual relationship and leave (or are evicted from the premises). Johanna (Camilla Rutherford) is the latest such victim of his fleeting affections, finally discarded as if just one of the many sewing women fluttering about his multi-storied estate. And this dismissal is conducted by Reynold’s sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), an equally stoic woman who governs the Woodcock household like Mrs. Danvers (from “Rebecca”), attending to schedules and routines and even very personal matters.

Spectacularly old-fashioned orchestral music by Jonny Greenwood fills the air, aiming direly to convince viewers that the onscreen hubbub matches the classic stylings of ‘50s (or older) pictures (perhaps in the vein of “The Awful Truth” but without the slapstick). Unfortunately, the attention isn’t spent recreating high society melodrama or comedies of manner; instead, it’s about building up two distinct yet miserable characters who engage in an unconvincing, mismatched love story. Crawling along as if in no hurry to engage audiences, Woodcock toils over constructing a dress for Countess Henrietta Harding (Gina McKee) – a task for a trivial event that is difficult to make pressing or substantial.

When Reynolds goes down to the country for a break from his tailoring, he spies clumsy young waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps), whom he invites to dinner (where he’ll do such odd things as remove her lipstick with a napkin, reveal that he has a lock of his mother’s hair sewn into his jacket, and dip his finger into her gravy boat of custard). It’s a good thing he’s so handsome, otherwise Alma might not put up with his creepy behavior. Later, she more than willingly goes back to his cottage, where he fits her into a dress, takes her measurements, and peruses material samples – all while Cyril stares coldly and jots down notes, as if a permanent third wheel. The two Woodcocks are so bizarre that they’d make a superb pair of serial killers. “Cyril is always right.”

It’s not long before Alma is a full-time muse, serving as a model, a sewer, and a lover. For some much-needed conflict, she butters her toast too noisily, while he fusses over every little thing. For a considerable time, “Phantom Thread” seems to be suggesting that great artists are eccentric, dysfunctional babies, and that strong-willed women must preside over their idiosyncrasies as both a source of inspiration and as a nurse. Soon, the real question becomes, “Why would Alma put up with his irritating finickiness?” And, “Could he really be that handsome?”

What starts as a strained, unsuitable romance between dislikable, unsympathetic characters eventually graduates to something marginally more interesting. But it’s too little, too late. He’s an uncompromising, stubborn man; she’s a desperate, needy woman. Her purpose transforms into that of a parent, indulging and fawning over his successes, before bawling him out to put him in his place. “Stop being a child!” While the start could be described as “My Fair Lady” but with the artsy fastidiousness of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2017 mindset, the leading couple’s power struggle devolves into something more akin to “Amadeus.” In Anderson’s world, love is psychotic and sickening and irrational – and it must be fought for. Fighting dirty is his inclination, so this battle of wills must be riddled with artifice.

The conclusion is comically strange – a high point to be sure. But the appealing weirdness of Reynolds and Alma’s relationship is a last-minute revelation, not a carefully structured and observed game of trickery that was brewing the whole time. As a result, it makes much of the first two-thirds of “Phantom Thread” an inexplicable compiling of details that doesn’t contribute to the spontaneous shift in their singularly defined affair. For a truly worthwhile twist, the outlandishness should have been lurking there the whole time.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10