The latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson is a really beautifully shot and staged story about creative genius and masochistic relationships. It’s austere, sharp, and hilarious in places, which contrasts wonderfully against the brittle self-seriousness everyone treats themselves with. Great writing, great directing, great acting, great score – this is a great film.
Daniel Day Lewis stars at Reynolds Woodcock, a high-class fashion designer in 1950s London. He’s a man of meticulous precision who must have absolutely everything in perfect order. The artist as obsessive control freak, though only over the creative aspect of his fashion house – his sister Cyril (a magnificently understated Lesley Manville) does all the book-keeping and hiring and firing of various staff and muses. Theirs is a peculiar brother-sister relationship which is discomfited by the arrival of a new muse, Alma (played by Victoria Krieps), who threatens to destabilize the carefully ordered universe in which they live.
First of all, what struck me most about the movie was the style. I found it extremely evocative of the period, or the idealized notion of that period as informed by the classic movies of the time. I mean it really feels like an homage as well as an artifact, it casts such an extraordinary spell. The score is absolutely beautiful, one of the best I’ve heard in years in terms of supporting and enhancing the images on screen.
What I was most surprised by was how funny a lot of the movie is, and how deftly the humour is rung from such humourless characters. Everyone takes themselves way too seriously, which is funny in itself, especially with dialogue like “I don’t want to hear it because it hurts my ears” delivered in icy tones. I find humour is very difficult to get just right, but when this movie is funny it is laugh-out-loud funny, despite the fact that the relationship between Woodcock and Alma is intensely masochistic. I find the balance of such contrasts fascinating, particularly when handled as evenly as this film does.
Phantom Thread is a truly beautiful film, in my opinion. It’s got a twisted story dressed in gorgeously appealing clothes, and as such it perfectly mirrors its subject matter. The performances are perfect, especially Lesley Manville holding her own against the towering charisma of Day Lewis, and they have a really great script to work from. The imagery and music make the movie feel very apt to its period and are potently hypnotic. The movie really does cast a spell over you for its duration and I would definitely see it again.