Phantom Thread (2017)


Well, in what he says is his final role in a movie, Daniel Day-Lewis stars as an eccentric and immensely gifted 1950s British high-fashion dressmaker, Reynolds Woodcock, a fictional hero, and his performance is sublime. No other word comes to mind.

Here’s some more good news about Phantom Thread: Talented young actress Vicky Krieps, a server in a restaurant, attracts Woodcock early in the story–her persona hits Woodcock as ideal for his art and, being an artist, he wraps the romance up in a finely spun admixture of the passionate designer wanting to dream up dresses that complement feminine allure–and together they dramatize the Dance of Romance in one of the finest sequences, a brief encounter, I can recall seeing in the movies. Day-Lewis is as good here as ever and Krieps, playing “Alma,” is a revelation.

Yes, in a short time when they are first together, their dance reaches the magic of pure art. There is very little spoken dialog but a wonderful clinic on how to speak through facial expressions, posture and, especially, a tense verbal silence. You’ll find yourself sailing along on some great acting and staging and (small doubt) fine editing. It shows as realistic, graceful and bracing. And its very form as unfortunately a digressive passage in this long and, finally, less-than-credible study of the artist, itself conveys Woodcock’s joy as a creator of stylistic masterpieces: he is a beautifier, and he is consumed by it. The Dance of Romance sequence shows implicitly the life and personality of an artist.

In short, there are two movies here. The second one isn’t so good.

Movie 2: The ensuing story of their post-romantic “relationship”–no other word seems appropriate–after its beautiful beginning seems a Gothic stretch. In fact, it’s poisonous. We learn next to nothing about Woodcock’s dressmaking–the inspirational and creative sources. We meet a few people who don’t seem (a) interesting and (b) to have much to do with advancing the storyline.

As viewers, metaphorically maybe it is a matter of taking a seat on an aisle so that you can discreetly leave the showing once the beginning romance of the principals has faded.

Director and script writer Paul Thomas Anderson has mastered the technical tricks of putting a movie together. His problem is in the storytelling itself. After Movie 1, he proceeds to give us an exaggerated and unconvincing portrait of Woodcock and especially of Woodcock’s puritanical  sister, Cyril, who is the ever-affronted and tight-lipped business manager of The House of Woodcock. Cyril, together with a forced homicidal twist in the action, brings a faint sense of Hitchcock’s Rebecca; but nothing in Anderson’s storyline comes close to that powerful movie.

There is, then, Woodcock 1 versus Woodcock 2. They seem two different people.

Life being complicated, I’d strongly recommend Movie 1. It is marvelous in its implicative, poetic brevity.

Movie 2: if you like high-fashion dresses, runways, and don’t mind the Gothic fallbacks of inept storytellers, you can probably get through it.

Names are important in Phantom Thread:For example, “Alma.” Then there is “Woodcock.” Here in Phantom Thread it seems a very simplistic study in motivation.

Memo to Director/Script Writer Anderson: Bad name.