Imagine a special episode of Project Runway co-produced by the BBC and Investigation Discovery, featuring Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis as a meticulous and obsessive designer who takes Tim Gunn’s “make it work” mantra to a whole new level. Set it in 1950s London. Throw in a bit of dry British humor, a strong-willed muse and some creepy family dynamics. And you’ve got Phantom Thread, the eighth movie from director Paul Thomas Anderson, and his second with Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood). Anderson movies are a bit of an acquired taste that I have yet to… well, acquire. So I’m not all that surprised that Phantom Thread failed to win me over despite its strong performances and killer wardrobe.
Day-Lewis plays renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, a perfectionist whose haute couture designs are all the rage among the high-society clientele. Movie stars, heiresses, debutantes and dames come to rely on the “House of Woodcock” to deliver that certain air of beauty and confidence that comes with a custom fit. As for Woodcock himself, the job is all-consuming. He is a confirmed bachelor – selfish and set in his ways. Women come and go to provide inspiration and companionship, but all are summarily dismissed – usually by Reynolds’ live-in sister/executive assistant Cyril (Lesley Manville) – when they threaten to disrupt his carefully-tailored routine. That is, until Alma (Luxembourg-born actress Vicky Krieps) steps into the role of muse and lover. She isn’t so easily dismissed.
Day-Lewis is a method actor to the umpth degree. He disappears into his roles, and Reynolds Woodcock is no exception. He’s mesmerizing to watch, and Krieps and Manville certainly hold their own. But the film as a whole felt slow, the music was overbearing, and the plot unraveled at the end (for me, at least; others may think it’s brilliant).
Day-Lewis recently announced that Phantom Thread is his final film. No word on exactly why. The guy is 60 years old and has been known to drift in and out of the spotlight between major gigs (My Left Foot, The Boxer, Gangs of New York, Lincoln). So I take the pronouncement with a grain of salt. Maybe he’s planning to spend the next 20 years preparing for a role as a dedicated method actor who stages a big comeback in his 80s. Stay tuned.
Bottom line: If you have an interest in fashion, period dramas and/or Paul Thomas Anderson flicks (Punch Drunk Love, Boogie Nights, Inherent Vice), then you’ll probably appreciate Phantom Thread way more than I did. It’s a (movie) style choice.
Arty Chick weighs in: I am a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson flicks, mostly. Inherent Vice was a hot mess. I liked this one, but I didn’t love it. It is worth seeing for Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance though. Whether it’s his swan song or not, he as always commands the screen. And Vicky Krieps is a revelation. While it is set within a fashion house, I wouldn’t classify it as a fashion flick. It is really the story of young woman breaking through the walls of a curmudgeonly bachelor and winning his heart by any means necessary. It has some very funny moments, and some that are awfully sweet. And while the ending is a bit of a mystery, but I was never bored. And I will always think of this film at the breakfast table, especially while buttering my toast.