I fell in love with Punch Drunk Love, and by extension its director, Paul Thomas Anderson. Since I’d already loved Boogie Nights I re-visited Magnolia and found lots to love there too. Punch Drunk Love was the start of my affair with PTA, and also the end. I’ve seen and not really liked everything he’s done since: There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice. It makes me feel like a failed cinephile to admit my inability to get behind these movies and I was itching to break the spell with Phantom Thread. It currently holds a 92% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes and is being lauded for Daniel Day-Lewis’s committed (and final) performance, but no, Phantom Thread did nothing for me.
Set in London, 1950’s, Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a genius dressmaker whose fashion house is coveted by all ladies in good standing. His life is rigorously regimented and he turns out perfection in taffeta and the finest silk. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) runs his business and his home. Neither tolerate the slightest deviance from their prescribed lifestyle. BUT then a lovely young woman causes a disruption. Alma (Vicky Krieps) turns out to not be the meek muse that Woodcock first took her for, and his world is soon turned more inside out than the discarded gowns on a dressing room floor.
Is Daniel Day-Lewis quite good? Yes he is. His performance is measured and he puts you under his spell – almost. The trouble with Woodcock is that he’s thoroughly detestable. Alma is plain but transformed by his designs, made to feel beautiful and important, but it’s his attention that she desires and his alone. And of course he’s too fastidious, too devoted to his work to give it. But why does she want it? Women, to him, are basically just objects. They’re either housekeepers, muses, or clients – and he’s already got a housekeeper, and loads of clients. So Alma needs to find herself a niche, and she’s not afraid to carve one out herself.
Phantom Thread is undeniably meticulous in its execution, but I found it slow and I felt uninvolved. Not caring for any of the lead characters makes you feel so removed no matter how stirring the colour palette. The dresses were sumptuous and incredible really, but it felt more like flipping through the pages of a beautiful catalogue. The emotions are so inaccessible Alma may as well be a mannequin and not since Today’s Special has that been a compliment. The internet is filled with positive reviews for this movie but this is not one of them.