Phantom Thread

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 the-phantom-thread-trailer-1e98fcf2-7417-4ff9-bb81-a75e0cabd04band 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.

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19 thoughts on “Phantom Thread

  1. Carrie Rubin

    I went to this last night with film-buff son. (You know you have a future filmmaker on your hands when he’s the one who wanted to see this movie.) It sounds like I enjoyed it more than you, though I certainly wasn’t blown away by it. I also thought the resolution was unsatisfying. But I thought the score was gorgeous. Such beautiful piano arrangements, which, my son informed me, was the work of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, one of my son’s favorite bands. The music, combined with the gorgeous dresses and beautiful setting, helped get me through the slow bits.

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  2. Sean

    This wasn’t terrible but it was very disappointing. I was expecting more from PTA. I gave him the benefit of the doubt for a long time, waiting for this file to reveal its raison d’etre, and it never did. Daniel Day Lewis was really good but as you said his character was detestable so it’s hard to recommend this even though this may be his last role (though I think he’s said that before so hopefully not).

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  3. Liz A.

    Interesting. I’ve only heard praise for this. But your review is making me rethink. Because I can see how what I’ve read and what you wrote can both be true. And that makes me think this movie will bore me too.

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  4. speaksmovie

    Oh! And that niche she carves out. How deliciously fucked up it is. I LOVED this movie. I found Krieps outstanding and a great match for DDL. The unlikable natures of their characters are what this movie is all about, so I can see why you didn’t dig. I’m a PTA nut. I even loved Inherent Vice.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I enjoyed Inherent Vice more than TWBB or TM. Of course, I particularly liked going out for drinks AFTER Inherent Vice and being all like – what the fuck?

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  5. Dan

    When it comes to your appreciation of Anderson, I’d say his films get better with second and third viewing. It’s hard to return to a film that failed to engage you on first viewing but try it with Anderson, specifically because you admired Punch Drunk Love. There Will Be Blood is one of my favourite films of the 2000s and I’ve really enjoyed his movies since (but I haven’t seen Phantom Thread yet).

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  7. Peter

    Agree. For a male, hard to channel an artistic obsessive. The women in the audience seemed to love it though. Found myself asking, what if the roles were reversed. It wouldn’t look good.

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  8. godtisx

    I thought Daniel Day Lewis was spectacular in this, and the woman lead was completely his match. i even like how they crafted the sister, but they lost me with the turn around (the direction the film took). But DDL is completely engaging to watch and his counterpart was too, but the ending dropped the ball. For me.

    Still appreciate it though, much of it was incredible.

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