Phantom Thread (2017)


Cast includes: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln), Vicky Krieps (Hanna), Leslie Manville (Maleficent)
Writer/Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice)
Genre: Drama | Romance (130 minutes)


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“He made my dreams come true,” says Alma. “I gave him what he most wanted… every part of me.” In flashbacks, we see how demanding Reynolds Woodcock’s routine can be. First the meticulous grooming, then greeting the seamstresses as they ascend the service stairway, then breakfast and sketching… “Didn’t I tell you I don’t like these pastries!” “You may have told it to someone else,” says Johanna, complaining that Reynolds ignores her. “I cannot begin my day with a confrontation.” Cyril, Reynolds’s sister, gives Johanna an icy glare. Reynolds’s demanding… even cruel… side gives way to obsequiousness when he greets his first client of the day. The fitting goes perfectly, but afterward Cyril needs to talk to him about Johanna. “The time has come. She’s getting fat sitting around waiting for you to fall in love with her again.” Reynolds is tense… feeling the presence of their late mother. It’s time to get away for a while and leave Cyril to get things back on track at Woodcock of London.

In the country, Reynolds goes for breakfast at the Victoria Hotel. That slightly clumsy waitress is actually rather charming, upon closer look. He orders nearly everything on the menu, plus a pot of Lapsang Souchong… all the while looking at her with a gaze that could melt metal. “Will you have dinner with me?” “Yes,” she says… adding “My name is Alma.” After dinner, they go to his house, where he asks her to try on a basted muslin gown. “Yes,” she says. That’s when he talks about sewing a wedding dress for his late mother’s 2nd marriage and the messages one can sew into the canvass of a dress. “Why are you not married?” Alma asks. “I make dresses,” he answers. But when she’s still puzzled, he goes on. “Marriage would make me deceitful. I never want that… the expectations and assumptions.” Alma also says “yes” to being measured, and that’s when Cyril appears with her notebook to write down all the numbers Reynolds reads out. “You have the ideal shape,” she tells Alma. “He likes a little belly.” Reynolds and Cyril seem to have a kind of non-verbal understanding between them. “I feel as if I’ve been looking for you for a very long time,” Reynolds tells Alma when he asks her to come live with him (and Cyril) in London. We have the feeling Alma is one of several young girls who have become muses for the famous dress designer.

Alma is nothing if not compliant… just Reynolds’s kind of muse. But history will not repeat itself when Alma comes to live with the Woodcocks. This haunting and beautiful film is totally captivating… not because we know what’s going on, but because it’s hard to look away. It feels unsettling in many ways, yet it’s hard to put one’s finger on where we think it’s going. Daniel Day-Lewis is mesmerizing as the demanding perfectionist. Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville are perfect as the two women in Reynolds’s life. The film and the characters have a way of pulling our emotions from relative contentment to visceral disgust and back again. And all the while we’re on the edge of our seats, the visual beauty of the clothes and the scenery is a joy to watch. Moviegoers who prefer more typical plotlines will likely find this one too slow and enigmatic. During a fitting, Alma expresses her preference for another fabric… not the one that Cyril says is perfect. “Cyril is always right. Maybe you’ll change your taste, Alma.” In an act of defiance, Alma says, “I like my own taste.” The story advances on many small moments like this.

popcorn rating

3 popped kernels

Demanding London dress designer brings a new muse into his home and family business

Popcorn Profile

Rated: R
Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Sensitive
Distribution: Mainstream Limited Release
Mood: Sober
Tempo: In No Hurry   
Visual Style: High-End Production
Nutshell: High fashion and demanding egos
Language: True to life

Social Significance: Thought Provoking

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