Masterfully Dull: A “Phantom Thread” Review

Phantom Thread Movie Poster
Images Courtesy of Focus Features
By The Nerdling

Paul Thomas Anderson knows how to make a high-quality film, but that doesn’t always mean his work translates to a good movie.  Such as the case of Phantom Thread.  A movie filled with tour-de-force performances from its three leads, a gorgeous score which serves to elevate the beauty of the fashion world, and breathtaking set pieces and costumes.  The fashion shows peppered through out are worth the price of a ticket and an Oscar.  But Anderson’s study of men suffering from obsession of their craft has become uninspired.

Phantom Thread is tailored (pun intended) to win Oscars starting with Daniel Day-Lewis in his final performance, but really isn’t worth the praise being lavished upon it.  While I would pay to see Day-Lewis act his way out of a paper bag, it is a little bit of a letdown Reynolds Woodcock, a high-end fashion designer, will be his final outing in the film world.

Reynolds
Images Courtesy of Focus Features

Set in the mid 1950’s, Reynolds creates wearable masterpieces for royalty and the high-society elite from all over the world in his posh, four-story London town home.  Work is his first love.  His sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville, also nominated for her performance), is his second (but not in a Lannister type of way).  There is not much love left to go around afterwards.  Reynolds is a proud bachelor.  His good looks and aloof manor garners him a slew of women.  They are used as muses before their need for his attention becomes a nuisance.  The ladies are quietly shown the door by Cyril with a beautiful dress and are quickly forgotten.  When the film begins, we see the end of such a relationship.

Cyril convinces her brother to head to the country to clear his head while she takes care things in London.  Driving thru the night, Reynolds stops in a restaurant for breakfast before heading to his property.  There he meets a sweet and unassuming waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps).  She serves him is large and meticulously ordered breakfast and is asked to dinner.

After a lovely evening, Reynolds takes Alma back to his home where he fits her with a new dress he has designed.  The artist has found his new muse less than 24 hours after his last one has been dismissed.  Alma is moved into Reynolds’s London flat and given a room next to his for her to be at his beck and call.  For a time, Alma is showered with lavish dresses he makes just for her all while working in his studio with the other seamstresses in his employ.

Alma
Images Courtesy of Focus Features

Things are perfect, until they are not.  Alma continually attempts to challenge Reynolds, but he only wants a partner who is compliant with his many rules.  Like many artists before him, Reynolds is temperamental and Alma is not sure how to navigate his many moods.  Their relationship comes to a head when she dismisses his entire staff one evening to make him a romantic birthday dinner.  Reynolds pouts over her attempts to please him by making foods he likes her way and not his.  He feels ambushed by her affections.

This is when Phantom Thread turns Hitchcockian.  There was already a minor Vertigo vibe going on, but then the plot takes an odd turn that took me square out of the movie and looking around the theater wondering where in the hell this came from.  I’m not going to say what since it definitely counts as a spoiler.

Despite the out-of-left-field twist, Phantom Thread boasts some of the best performances from the two supporting women.  Krieps, a relative unknown in the U.S., and Manville’s portrayals are not overshadowed by Day-Lewis.  A feat not easily manageable.  Alma may struggle with how to handle her lover, but Cyril has no problem managing her brother.  There are a couple of moments when Reynolds is checked by his sister that had me wishing I could reach thru the screen and hug Manville.  It was refreshing to see these two women shine in a film meant to be an Oscar vehicle for its star.

Cryil
Images Courtesy of Focus Features

Phantom Thread is a beautifully crafted, pretentious bore.  Worth watching for the performances, score, and fashion, but only after it becomes available to rent.  After seeing films like The Shape of Water, Call Me by Your Name, and The Post, the Best Picture Oscar nomination for this movie seems compulsory since it is Day-Lewis’s final performance.

Phantom Thread is now showing in theaters throughout the U.S.


The Nerdling was born in the majestic land known as Texas and currently resides there after several years of journeying through Middle Earth in a failed attempt to steal the one Ring from that annoying hobbit, serving the Galactic Empire for a time, and then a short stint as a crew member on the Serenity. Since moving back to her homeland, Nerdling flirted with a hero reputation. Saving children from the dangers of adoring domineering, sparkly vampires (champions with souls are the only vampires worth loving) and teaching normals the value of nerdom, all while rooting for her beloved Dallas Stars. Then came the Sokovia Accords and her short spell of saving others came to an end. With Darth Vader’s reputation rightfully returning to badass status, Nerdling is making her way back to the Empire. They do have cookies, you know. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram

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