Paul Thomas Anderson returns in collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis (in what may be the actor’s final film, ever) to give us the story of an workaholic whose life is put out of balance by Love. Phantom Thread, written, directed (and some say lensed) by Anderson, is now nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Costume Design (duh), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Lesley Manville) and, in what is clearly just protocol (as if anyone else stands a chance against him), a nomination for Day-Lewis for Best Actor.
Reynolds Woodcock is a London based fashion designer of extreme fame, who spends his days creating dresses, measuring beautiful models, and sitting in silence in his big house with his sister, Cyrill (Lesley Manville). But when he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), he finds a muse and a new lover. In the beginning, it’s all rosy, but when Alma realizes the man she loves is a spoiled little brat, and that she has to compete with his life’s work for attention, she decides to take the matter in her own hands and carve by force a place for herself in Woodcock’s extremely regulated existence. Inspiration for the script came to PT Anderson when he was sick and was being taken care of by his wife Maya Rudolph, which makes us wonder how long will their relationship last after this.
A film with Day-Lewis doing nothing for two hours would already get all the raving reviews, but the big surprise here is how well almost unknown Luxembourger actress Vicky Krieps manages to stand her own against his Colossal Acting. She and her never explained accent (probably from New Orleans) have a candor and energy that contrastes beautifully against the stiff environment she finds herself in. And though she evolves from a colourful, noisy exuberance to a pale, quiet shadow later in the film, there’s something about her character – let’s call it an internal life – that makes her always believable in a script that – spoiler – goes completely off the rocks in the third act.
Despite the marketing making it sound like a biopic, Phantom Thread is, simply, a love story of the unusual kind. The moments where Woodcock belittles Alma and they end up fighting are as fulcral to their relationship as their conventional lovey-dovey scenes. Far from being a sexual attraction, theirs lives from a fucked-up power dynamic, where Alma is as quickly put up on a pedestal, as told she has no breasts worth mentioning. There are small annoyances at script level: Alma does not seem to have an existence outside Woodcock, working as a dark variation of a manic dream pixie girl; not all details (and there are many, peppered around like sequins) come to satisfactory conclusions; and despite the twist (if you want to so call it) being a good one, it doesn’t ring completely true for Woodcock’s character. Still, Phantom Thread is a very enjoyable watch, and undoubtedly a very good film – not as good as some of the competition, but good enough not to embarrass Day-Lewis as his goodbye to acting (and hello to full-time dress-making? Who knows… who knows…)
Phantom Thread is in UK cinemas from 2nd February 2018