- Product Rating -

Phantom Thread

| January 16, 2018

Paul Thomas Anderson seems to be that one director that cinephiles collectively melt for upon the mentioning of his name, yet it’s a reaction that has never swept over me. His movies are often maddening in how their technical expertise is undercut by overblown runtimes and some unfounded screenwriting decisions, and Phantom Thread generally lie within that spectrum, albeit on the more positive side. A dreamy sea of satin that’s full of wondrous performances, the first 85 minutes or so are some of the most intoxicating filmmaking in recent memory, only for Anderson’s pretensions to arise when the remainder of the film hinges on plot points that are inadequately set up, undercooked, and served to the audience cold, constantly redeemed by the mastery of acting and technical filmmaking.

In the refined glamor of 1950s London, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a renowned dressmaker whose wonderfully grandiose name is matched by his attention to detail in virtually every aspect of his life. He lives with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) and the two operate The House of Woodcock to dress various members of high society when Reynolds, a confirmed bachelor, comes across the strong-willed Alma (Vicky Krieps). While she quickly becomes a muse and romantic interest for Reynolds, she also becomes a rival against his haughtiness and privilege enabled by those around him.

Phantom Thread is, thematically speaking, some of Anderson’s more engaging material, especially after the dull high that was Inherent Vice three years ago. With this, he sews together an experience that is as meticulous and beguiling as the persona and life of Woodcock himself. Sound design from Christopher Scarabosio, music from Jonny Greenwood, costume design from Mark Bridges, and (uncredited) cinematography from Anderson himself synthesize under the soft light to make something at once dreamy and specific. There’s a tactility to it all and a humor that underscores the grandiosity that Anderson is so clearly enamored with, and rightfully so. Phantom Thread is, from the first frame to almost an hour and a half in, a privilege to behold.

It’s what makes the shortcomings of Phantom Thread all the more frustrating, largely due to the messiness of its script at times. What begins as a film about the dangers of male privilege and the necessity of a woman to put such a man in his place later shifts into something entirely different. While that shift is not inherently flawed, it’s the execution that retroactively undermines what preceded it, forcing the rest of the movie to operate on a shallower level. The human elements of Anderson’s script reduce themselves to what’s more similar to a highbrow, exquisitely made cartoon going off of the rails. Pacing suffers as a result from time to time, again forcing the viewer to refocus attention on surface-level flourishes as opposed to the details and relationships that clearly are in place but not taken full advantage of.

It’s an experience that’s often enchanting and sometimes disappointing, a refined mess that almost threatens you not to love it. But a threat doesn’t always result in the desired effect, even if shades of the artist’s intentions are strung about and picked up on by audience members. Nevertheless, it’s an experience worth putting oneself underneath. In spite of the out-of-place strands that distract from the full picture, it remains something singular, even if the train cars wobble too far away from the tracks upon its sharp turns.

About the Author:

Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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