The 90’s independent film boom was quite a ride as there were so many unique voices that would be hard to replicate. Not only that, a lot of these filmmakers and their works just carried so much swagger to them that you had to impressed by how confident they came across. Many of them seemed to stay with made them work, but Paul Thomas Anderson seems to always want to challenge himself in a way that sets him apart from the pack as he seems to have a tendency to get out of his comfort zone. While I wasn’t crazy about his last movie Inherent Vice, it was still one of those movies that you had to admire for its weirdness even if it doesn’t totally come together. This was in some ways a return to form for him in some ways even if this isn’t a movie I can say that I totally could embrace. When I first saw this in the theater earlier this year, I remember being really impressed by how well made it was, but that’s to be expected from Anderson. This is still apparent on a second viewing. It’s also different and unpredictable in some ways so it had that going for it in addition to excellent performances from Daniel-Day Lewis and Vicky Krieps.
Daniel Day Lewis is Reynolds Woodcock, a respected fashion designer who’s very uptight nature is tested when he meets a nice young woman named Alma, who becomes his muse, and his girlfriend. What starts out as an innocent courtship turns into a nightmare as the two begin to learn more about each other and Alma realizes how neurotic Reynolds can be. Watching this again, I hated him the whole movie rather than simple indifference I had the first time I watched this because of the childish behavior he presented. His routine starts to get interrupted and he has to make everyone miserable as a result. I get that things don’t work out, but you don’t have to give everyone grief all the time. We get it. It might be annoying that someone made noise when they were eating breakfast. But it’s not worth huffing and puffing over. But I guess that’s the point of the movie though and it’s an interesting point that the movie makes. I understand the feeling of change and how certain behaviors and details can get on your nerves the more you see it. I can somewhat see why Reynolds is feeling conflicted about how this new relationship is affecting his way of life. Even so, I wanted someone to hit him across the head with a vase, but it never happened. Lewis is excellent as always as he seems to really bleed into the character. He never gives him heart or humanity but he’s always so compelling. He has some moments where he’s not a total pain but even then, he was a lot to take. His backstory allows us viewers to get into what makes Reynolds tick but it doesn’t make his behavior any better. I never liked the actual character though because he was hard to sympathize with. He definitely has a talent as a designer but he’s just not a people person. His prickly nature does result in some of the movie’s more memorable moments. While they might not reach the absurd levels of There Will Be Blood or The Master, there’s still a sense of humor throughout to keep this from being a typical stuffy costume drama that might seem to be on the surface. But in a lot of ways, this is still a typical costume drama and the way that it presents itself in the beginning added to that assumption. Anderson brings enough of his style to make it distinctive from other movies with its similar tone and subject matter. There’s also the fashion aspect that connected with me in an unexpected way as it made me understand Reynolds a bit more as we see how dedicated and passionate he is to his craft. Even still, Lewis is great in the role and he gives a magnetic performance that needs to be witnessed like most DDL performances. If this is actually his final role as it was reported at the time, then it’s a great way to end a career.
Vicky Krieps as Reynolds’ new lover Alma was an interesting touch as her character went into some unexpected directions. A lot of how Reynolds and Alma interact at the beginning was playing like a typical romance you would see in a stuffy British drama although from the start. Anderson is capable of showing there were instances that start to show the toxicity of their potential relationship as little cracks of their true selves start to show even in their better and happier times. Much of the drama of the film is derived from how different these people are and it presents effectively why they shouldn’t be together. But it’s not interested in how this poor woman will break away from this and come out the better side a better person. It seems to be going more for psychological thriller territory as we learn more about Reynolds as Alma gets more involved with him. She came off as more sympathetic and as expected, you feel sympathetic for why she’s in this complicated relationship. It’s unhealthy for both parties involved as she is shown to be a willing participant to the treatment that Reynolds offers. The movie could be making the point about how toxic this relationship is and it does do a solid job not sugarcoating how unbearable it must be for Alma to deal with this man. It doesn’t glorify what happens as it does feel as tragic as it should feel. Even so, the characters themselves are compelling to watch thanks to the performances. Lesley Manville is fantastic as Reynolds’ sister, Cyril. She gave it as good as she got. She’s very much like her brother but she’s more civil about how she expresses herself. It was nice how she has to act as a referee when things get heated between the two. The way she and Reynolds communicated was interesting as she clearly knows how uptight he could be, but she was able to walk around eggshells with no hesitation. They talk to each other like coworkers rather an actual brother and sister. Even when Alma shows up in the picture, Cyril just goes about her business and makes sure to advise the young woman on what to do. It’s the kind of performance that of course will go underrated because it’s not showy but Manville does a great job making a very understated character shine even when 90% of her screentime is with DDL, one of the most celebrated actors of our time.
Overall, it’s a well made movie from a technical aspect. Even the actors are showing up but with someone of Anderson’s caliber, that’s always a sure thing. The shots are impressive and make the movie more interesting to watch. Jonny Greenwood’s score is a perfect fit for the film as it not only gets the tone right, but it gives the film a mysterious aura at times. That said, I never felt emotionally connected to a lot of what’s going on. It felt hollow and superficial but I think the world is supposed to feel that way. I have to give it credit for having a very specific vision for something that’s been tried and true. It’s unpredictable how things turn out and I liked that. It’s just not a movie that really sucks you in if you’re looking for pure entertainment. I feel like if I were younger that this is kind of movie that I would convince myself was fun because it was from a critically acclaimed director and it has this aesthetic that makes it look artistic, so that means that it was great and it was definitely a better choice from whatever so-called “mind numbing” blockbusters that came out instead. In other words, I used to be pretty snobby when it came to watching movies. But to be honest, things have changed in my life and I’ve had to reflect on things that made me think that I don’t know if I can be that kind of person anymore. I just want to watch movies to have fun and/or be entertained, so I really went into this viewing as a just a regular person who wanted to see a movie and trying to not to align myself with any critic I respect who praises this with how gorgeous it looked on the big screen. Although, in defense to those critics, they’re not wrong. Maybe watching it at home made me really reflect more as being in a theater can be an overwhelming experience. So, as a result, I can respect that this is a movie with a very idiosyncratic and twisted vision that is admirable, but it’s still the stuffy British costume drama you saw from the trailers. But if that’s your thing, then you will find something to enjoy. If you also want to be enriched with great actors being great with help from a great filmmaker, then that’s another reason to check this out.
I am giving Phantom Thread a 3 out of 5 Hairpieces!