FlixChatter Review: Phantom Thread (2017)

Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Ok, firstly a confession: this is my intro to Paul Thomas Anderson (known as PTA to cinephiles). Secondly: It’s a film I appreciate but not love. Wait, what? Yes I know, this film has garnered unanimous adulation. Critics as well as fellow filmmaker I know (including my short film director) calling it exquisite, masterpiece, sublime.

Now, I don’t disagree with them. On a technical level, the film is superb. Even the story is intriguing, impossibly elegant and mysterious. The painstaking attention to detail is amazing and amazingly-stylish, which is fitting considering it’s a film about an obsessive fashion designer.

On an emotional level however, it just doesn’t resonate with me. It feels like a cold film. Perhaps it’s intentional and perhaps PTA himself intentionally kept viewers at arms’ length, as that’s how the film’s protagonist Reynolds Woodcock keeps his lovers. Played with elegance aloofness by Daniel Day-Lewis, it made me wish he isn’t serious about retiring.

Even playing such an unlikable character, Day-Lewis is mesmerizing. There’s something so precise about his acting, and being a method actor that he is, he makes you believe he is whoever he is playing. But equally mesmerizing is Vicky Krieps as Alma, who’s pretty much Day-Lewis’ equal. It’s fitting given that Alma’s pretty much Reynold’s equal despite her initial meek demeanor. I haven’t seen miss Krieps before, but the Luxembourg-born actress has quite a resume. I just wish there’s more to her character, it’d be more interesting to see more of her backstory.

This is the kind of film that makes you ponder for days. What is it about exactly? There are many themes being explored here, and one that comes to mind immediately is obsession, specifically Reynold’s obsession with perfection. But he’s also a narcissist, a mama’s boy and frankly, a demanding big baby in terms of how he conducts his work. Everything has to be just so–no noise on the table as he eats his breakfast–or his entire day would be ruined.

He seems obsessed with Alma likely because she’s nurturing, yet she’s also headstrong like his loyal sister Cyrill. The always-reliable Lesley Manville is perfectly icy cool as Cyrill. There’s one particular scene between Cyrill and Reynolds that’s quite funny. The few darkly comedic scenes didn’t exactly offer respite from the gloomy spirit of the film however. I likened it to a chilly, windy, foggy day in London, perfectly tinged with melancholy.

Perhaps one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy this film as much was because I sat on the front row at the screening, so it was uncomfortable having to tip my head back the entire time to watch it. I don’t know if I would feel differently on second viewing, this isn’t something I’m keen on rewatching. Though it may appear like a romance drama, the film isn’t particularly romantic. It’s elegant yes, and tantalizing at times, but not really romantic. As I mentioned in my Shape of Water review, I love films that connect with me emotionally and this one didn’t really do that.

Despite my quibbles, I still give it high marks because I think it’s competently-done. PTA also did the cinematography on this and shot it on 35mm hence the rather-grainy quality. There’s not a lot of action in the film, but yet PTA made even the seemingly mundane act of sewing, cutting fabric, and especially cooking, so intriguing… and suspenseful. You won’t ever see mushroom the same way again after this. The style and camerawork suits the narrative and period well, complemented by Jonny Greenwood‘s evocative score. He’s a composer I’m also not familiar with, but his music here adds a hypnotic quality to the film.

So yeah, I can see why people admire PTA’s work and I’m glad I finally got to see one of his films. My film friends have all suggested that I check out his previous films, so I’ll do that eventually as I’m especially intrigued by Magnolia. As for this one, well I’m glad I saw it on the big screen, it’s certainly a good looking film.

So did you see Phantom Thread? Let me know what YOU think!

18 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Phantom Thread (2017)

  1. This is one of my most-anticipated movies of 2017 because of too many reasons to list out here. I’ve been hearing the man criticism with this movie is the apparent coldness, which you also felt but still, I feel that I will connect with it. Mainly because (only from what I have heard and make out from the basic plot), I feel like I share some characteristics with Day-Lewis’ character. And I know they are very unlikable aspects of me, so I just want to know how PTA has tackled that. And also, I’m very much interested in the basic plot. The idea of a character like Reynolds, finally facing his match in on a personal level – that sounds so damn interesting to me.
    I hope I get to see it on the big screen, though. Even the trailer couldn’t hide how good-looking the movie is.

    1. Hi Shivani! I wasn’t anticipating it but seeing the trailer got me curious, esp since it might be DDL’s last performance too. I’m curious to hear what you think. I can’t really relate to his character, well any of the characters really. It’s technically proficient, I was in awe by its attention to detail and beauty, but the story just left me cold. I much prefer to see Shape of Water again.

  2. It’s currently in my top 5 films of 2017 right now as I think it’s another piece of mastery from PT Anderson. The fact that this was your first PT Anderson film is baffling because he’s made so many films. I would’ve started with Boogie Nights and then go to There Will Be Blood and then Magnolia.

    1. It’s gonna end up on my top 10 despite how cold it is.

      Well, PTA is my filmmaker blindspot. I think everyone has one of those filmmakers you’re just not familiar with, somehow none of his films has appealed to me before. I’m most curious with Punch Drunk Love now based on people’s recommendations.

      1. That’s probably one of his most accessible features as it’s kind of a simple rom-com but with dream-like elements in its visuals and it features Adam Sandler in the best performance of his career. It proves that he’s better than the bullshit he’s doing but he just wants to make money and cater to the lowest common denominator.

  3. Brittani

    I agree with you on this. I liked it, but I didn’t love it as other critics did. I think I loved to look at it more than I loved the actual story.

    1. Glad you agree w/ me Brittani! Yep, it’s a gorgeous film but emotionally it just doesn’t resonate. I sure hope his other films isn’t as cold as this.

  4. You know that’s how I’ve always felt about PTA’s films, I appreciated most of them but never was in love with any of them. I’ll give this one a rent.

    I’m sure you’ve gotten lots of recommendations on which of his other films you should watch, let me add Punch Drunk Love, an dark comedy and Adam Sandler was surprisingly good in it!

    1. I see Ted, well I suppose he is a terrific director with an eye for visual and style, hopefully his other films resonated with me. Punch Drunk Love came highly recommended by a few of my friends too, so yeah I’ll give that a watch soon.

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