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Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Phantom Thread


Phantom Thread review by FilmZ

Paul Thomas Anderson's genre of preference is drama but drama with a twist, usually in the personalities of his main characters.  Self-aware or not, they are square pegs in a round world, a world they try to bend to their desires.  These attempts come with mixed results, and therein lies the drama, or the comedy if one takes a bit of a cockeyed look at it.  As I took in Phantom Thread, I often found myself bursting into laughter, only to receive NHL-worthy body checks from the Czarina and Guy S. Malone, Researcher.  Was I the only one who saw the black comic elements, skewering 1950s London haute couture?  Yes, it had all of the trappings of a high-end drama, especially Jonny Greenwood's lushly romantic score, period-accurate costumes and sets, and as a central focus the relationship between the artistic genius and his muse.  But that relationship--yoi!

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is dressmaker to the highest levels of society and royalty.  He is a perfectionist, obsessed with his work, fastidious in manner and mode, and inpatient with the imperfection of others.  We first see him at breakfast, sketching a dress.  Seated with him are his sister Cyril (Leslie Manville) and a young paramour whose every word and movement clearly irk the designer.  We see immediately that Cyril is not only the manager of the House of Woodcock, she is its protector--as the Czarina put it, "She's like Mrs. Danvers from Rebecca".  After breakfast, Cyril asks Reynolds if he would prefer that she tells the young woman to move out, and her brother says that would be best.  Cyril follows up with a suggestion that becomes most fateful for the ensuing two hours of the film: She thinks Reynolds could use a nice, relaxing stay in the country.

Cut to an upscale rural inn, where Reynolds is about to order breakfast when he spots klutzy server Alma (Vicky Krieps).  He is smitten, or as smitten as Reynolds gets because he makes it clear that he can never commit to marriage: "Marriage would make me deceitful, and I don't ever want that."  Perhaps his unresolved issues with his dead mother, his fussy perfectionism, or his egocentric worldview--all marked traits---get in the way.  But he has never met anyone like Alma; her soft voice and Mona Lisa smile conceal resources the likes of which Reynolds never had to contend.  The fussy man soon finds that even watching her eat toast repulses him, but she defends the House of Woodcock with assured fury.  She even wins over the icy Cyril.  Their relationship becomes an exercise in approach-avoidance, ever escalating, culminating in an unexpected (bizarre?) set of events.

A significant portion of the cinephile population places Paul Thomas Anderson at the top of the auteur list in Hollywood, and while we respect his oeuvre (The Master, There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights) we really like his films rather than adore them.  His vision and his eye, though, are most impressive, and they usually place his movies in awards contention.  We already mentioned the score, but the production design and costumes immerse us in 1950s London.  Then there is his story and the cast that delivers it: PTA's screenplay is, at times, inspired, at time, not, but actors Vicky Krieps, Leslie Manville, and Daniel Day-Lewis elevate even the mundane moments.  It won't be for everyone, but Anderson is true to himself, and that's enough.
8.0 out of 10 on an Entertainment Scale
8.5 out of 10 on an Awards Scale

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