Phantom Thread (2017)

by Not Friends Cinema Club

Few films were better critically received in the 2010s than Paul Thomas Andersonโ€™s ๐˜—๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ. But before I reveal my reservations about this critical darling, (simultaneously surrendering what little authority I have gained over the last couple months) it should be noted that few people anticipated PTAโ€™s 8th feature with as much eagerness as I.โฃ

As a general rule, PTA films both warrant and reward second viewings, but Iโ€™ve now seen ๐˜—๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ four times, and after each screening Iโ€™ve asked myself the same question: ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ด๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜โ€™๐˜ฎ ๐˜ฎ๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ? โฃ

๐˜—๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ is the story of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a persnickety, high-end 1950s London dressmaker, who discovers his new muse in a country BnB: a fumbling, swan-necked waitress named Alma. Woodcock is difficult in every regard and we learn from an earlier interaction that he has a history of disposing of his muses with indiscreet indifference. But when the flame of Almaโ€™s inspiration begins to flicker, unlike her predecessors, she assumes responsibility for her own fate, and in turn, the fate of their twisted romance.โฃ

โฃI will end the summarising there, as from here the plot seems to develop entirely in a subtextual realm, through a series of glances and glares, which is a feat on its own, but speaks volume of the film’s obsession with inaction. โฃ

It should be said that the craftsmanship on display here is undeniable. The world of 50s London dressmaking feels fastidiously researched and equally well realised; and the Oscar-winning costume alone should be enough to keep the fashionistas in their seats. But itโ€™s Johnny Greenwoodโ€™s (Radiohead) score which is the supreme element, so spot-on that it reveals everything the film intends on being: hauntingly romantic, devilishly acerbic and harrowingly poignant.โฃ

The links drawn between Woodcock and Count Dracula inseverable, as everything from the dress, manner and enigma of this โ€˜certified bachelorโ€™ seems absurdly vampiric; yet while I enjoy the gothic themes, along with the folkloric superstition and fairytale undertones, these are all aspects which feel like nothing more than meaningless hat-tilts which are of little contribution to the story. โฃ

Paul Thomas Anderson has a history of pulling off the most unorthodox romances, whether that be Barry and Lena from ๐˜—๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ๐˜ค๐˜ฉ ๐˜‹๐˜ณ๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฌ ๐˜“๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ, or Freddie and Lancaster from ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ (both of which I praise without restraint), but the incompatibility of Reynolds and Alma consistently seems too much of a stretch. It becomes increasingly difficult to believe in the endurance of this relationship: I canโ€™t believe the headstrong Alma resigning herself to a life subservience, regardless of the genius Woodcock possesses. โฃ

My primary issue with the film is that once we establish and unpack the twisted nature of this romance- which, granted, feels wholly original- does the film really go beyond being a detailed portrait of a peculiar power dynamic? I donโ€™t think so. It builds upon it by repeating itself.โฃ

โฃThe end result is a film which leaves too much of its storytelling in the hands of its score, and too cutely avoids any tangible drama. โฃ
Gives me no pleasure, but back to the basics please Paul.โฃ

Will Paineโฃ