Phantom Thread

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Phantom Thread is set in 1950’s post-war London where celebrated dressmaker, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), and his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), are the peak of British fashion. They’re dressing royalty, heiresses, and socialites alike, with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. The film is beautifully shot and wisely takes place mostly in the House of Woodcock, which is his home and business, with a brief visit to the English countryside. This is Paul Thomas Anderson’s eighth film and his second collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis, the first being the 2007 hit There Will Be Blood. Anderson will continue to have a thriving career if he wishes to, however, this will be the last big screen appearance for Daniel Day-Lewis. He announced his retirement in June of last year. Phantom Thread will be widely available on January 19th, after opening in select theaters on Christmas Day, making it eligible for this year’s Oscars. 
 
Daniel Day-Lewis gives another master class in acting performance. The three-time Oscar winner is still at his peak. He embodies Reynolds. It’s like he has been the fashionista his entire life and not Bill the Butcher, Daniel Plainview or Abraham Lincoln. I fully expect to hear his name on January 23rd when nominations are announced, but this role will not win him his fourth Best Actor Oscar. Reynolds is renowned for his designs but he is a difficult man. He believes he is cursed in the ways of love and has lived for his work, or maybe, because he lives for his work he is cursed in love. The film answers the question, what would Sheldon from Big Band Theory be like if he was slightly more charming and designed dresses in the mid-1900s. Reynolds lives his life on a roller coaster. He climbs while designing a dress for a famous client or building a new collection, the peaks when it is shown to the world, and then crashes into days of exhaustion and depression before beginning his next climb. A problem with the film is that we spend 90% or more in the climbing phase, where his sole focus is work and everything is pushed to the back. The second most time is spent in his down phase and then there was a tiny moment in between where he was normal and charming and was capable of wooing Alma (Vicky Krieps).
 
Alma is the highlight of the movie for me. Reynolds is the center, Cyril is the comedic element, and Alma is the heart. Krieps presents us with a woman who is feisty and strong-willed but caring and accommodating. She is comfortable with who she is, but that doesn’t mean she won’t try things a different way for Reynolds’ sake. She may not be the lead, but she is the one you hope for. You want Reynolds to return the love that she is offering, cast aside his sketchbook, and take her into his arms. Alma is smitten from the moment she makes eye contact with Reynolds in the country diner where she works. That time together was so precious to her. Alma is so amazed by the work he does, but she isn’t like his past romantic partners who let “the curse” overtake them. She fights back. I don’t think Krieps will be able to overcome the performances by Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), but I will be disappointed if she isn’t nominated along with her costar.
While the movie features tremendous acting and gorgeous costumery, it has two serious flaws, in my opinion. The first, I mentioned above. I believe it focuses too heavily on one facet of Reynolds’ personality. The second is that Reynolds and Alma’s relationship is rushed. We don’t spend enough time with the charming version of him to believe that she would put up with his later treatment. The film, in essence, is about finding a balance in life and love. As with fashion, this balance can be simple or with a bit more dramatic flair. It can be bliss or misery. I give the film a 4 out of 5.