By Chic DiCiccio
There has not and probably will never be a Paul Thomas Anderson movie that mainstream movie goers will embrace. From raining frogs to pudding cups, they are loaded with oddities, eccentrics, and just overall weirdness. His latest, “Phantom Thread,” is no different, but Anderson’s take on romance is easily his most accessible movie to date and, according to him, it will be (allegedly) the final movie in the acting career of Daniel Day Lewis.
No matter what the genre description reads or what some critics may tell you, “Phantom Thread” is Anderson’s take on romantic comedy. Of course, there’s no pratfalls or cutesy, goofball best friends in Anderson’s world. This world is of comprised flawed people with loose grips on their lives who just happen to excel in passive aggressive snark.
Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a dressmaker for the rich and famous in 1950s London whose charming public persona hides his private obsessive-compulsive-like behaviors. Every step of his life, both personal and business, is seemingly managed by his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville).
Initially, their relationship seems quite bizarre, but the longer time spent with Reynolds lessens the weirdness of it. When visiting his countryside manor, Reynolds meets a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps) and the two are immediately smitten. For a confirmed bachelor who may be an expert womanizer, Reynolds treats their growing relationship with such high levels of respect and care that it continually raises the romantic tension to almost unbearable levels.
“Phantom Thread” becomes a sneaky, darkly funny power struggle between Reynolds and Alma about who has the upper hand in their relationship with Cyril as the referee. There are some scenes so brilliantly written and acted that one can only imagine Anderson sitting off camera barely able to contain his laughter. Now, it’s not exactly laugh out loud-type stuff here, but it’s funny, nonetheless.
There’s never a scene without Lewis, Manville or Krieps and each of them are absolutely perfect in their roles. Manville may be having the most fun as she’s the only character allowed to snipe back at Reynolds from the very first scene. She plays Cyril as someone who knows she’s in charge, meticulously handling every business detail for her brother while also maintaining a constant air of calm.
Krieps is a relative unknown and she goes toe-to-toe with Lewis in several scenes, which she handles as if she’s been asked to do so for years. There’s a load of shocking manipulation built into her character, but since it’s all due to love that makes it seem okay.
“Phantom Thread” has the rare performance from Daniel Day Lewis where he is completely vulnerable. His cockiness hides an extremely insecure and unsure person screaming out for help. The normally bombastic Lewis is very reserved and even his insults seem politely doled out. If this is his last performance, it’s pleasantly subtle and he never goes full “drink your milkshake.”
One could argue that the main character in “Phantom Thread” is Jonny Greenwood’s gorgeous score. It’s an omnipresent score that only stops during key moments that require silence.
At times, the music so matches the moment that only the most downtrodden people won’t feel their heart racing.
“Phantom Thread” may not be Paul Thomas Anderson’s best movie, but it is definitely his most comforting. If you removed all of the brilliant quirks and out of left field plot developments, it would be a typical romantic period piece. Anderson has flipped this normally boring genre by crafting characters with depth and using plot devices that would never be on the radar for many filmmakers.
Unlike the squirm-worthy, ugly worlds on display in some of Anderson’s previous work, “Phantom Thread” will undoubtedly age well and only get better with each viewing.