Review: Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread left me depressed and with the annoying sense that either I’d missed (or the film failed to offer) a redemptive quality that would have justified or at least explained its existence. Yes, it’s cinematically elegant, drenched in gorgeous light, deftly acted, and peppered with Hitchcockian scenes that have a stylized, nostalgic appeal.

But it’s also emotionally hollow.

Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a fastidious, demanding celebrity couturier inhabiting a world revolves around women. He lives with his sister, goes through romantic partners often and with clinical detachment, and is financially supported by his clients, also women. He is attached to his deceased mother in a way that could explain his odd personality, but that key is frustratingly left at loose ends.

It’s also not clear why the bond exists between Woodcock and his latest paramour, waitress-turned-muse Alma (Vicky Krieps), beyond the initial psychological and physical frissons. Sometimes that’s a fun predicament for a moviegoer, but as the plot advances, you root less and less for either one of them and end up caring about neither. The dark twist in the film was less riveting than annoying. Why does one partner knowingly acquiesce to manipulation?

I was intrigued when I read that Daniel Day-Lewis and director Paul Thomas Anderson developed a sense of sadness during filming and that Day-Lewis not only did not plan to view the finished movie but also announced his retirement from acting afterward. Did he find the experience as strange and strained as I? Was it a surprise he chose to retire after this downbeat note?

What I found perplexing was finding the Woodcock dresses to be rather unappealing and ill-fitting. I initially assumed it was my bourgeois taste. After all, Day-Lewis immersed himself fully in the role, learning to sew, even re-creating a Balenciaga dress. But I later wondered if it was mauve used as a deliberate plot device. Was his talent true and thus his popularity and ego warranted, or was it his dynamic looks and mysterious personality that motivated fawning followers to proclaim the beauty of the emperor’s nonexistent finery? Not the only loose thread I was left with at the end of this film.

Really, really short review: Phantom Thread is like tiny-plated nouveau cuisine. Beautifully crafted, expensive, thoughtful, but ultimately unsatisfying.


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