Low Drama In High Fashion

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Title: Phantom Thread

Rating: 4 Stars

Since this is apparently Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film, I thought that I should make a point of going to see it in a theater.

He plays a dressmaker named Reynolds Woodcock. He is an obsessive perfectionist who has built strict routine into his life.

This includes his personal life. His habit is to meet a woman and then fall in love. Eventually, in fact rather quickly, the romance gets old, and the relationship ends, oftentimes with the assistance of his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville).

Fresh off yet another failed relationship, he takes leave and goes out to the country. There, he becomes enamored with his waitress at a local restaurant. As usual with him, he sweeps her off her feet (the character is Alma, played by Vicky Krieps).

It appears that he’s going to follow his usual pattern of romance fading ultimately into disinterest. However, Alma herself has a strong will and a deep commitment to the relationship. In fact, she understands what to do to keep the relationship strong, and does not hesitate to act on it (since it’s still out in release, I won’t spoil it).

Reynolds clearly has maternal issues, which manifests itself in a close relationship to his sister and deeply disconnected relationships with everyone else. Cyril and Reynolds clearly have a deep bond that his temporary lovers can’t even think of breaking. Cyril is the only woman who has any authority over Reynolds at all, at least until Alma comes along. Although it’s a strange sibling relationship, it’s left pretty unexplored.

And that’s pretty much the movie. Don’t get me wrong. It’s well acted and well made. The sheer skill in the art of the film brings it up to a four star rating, but just barely. There just wasn’t a whole lot to the story.

In some ways, it was reminiscent of a Henry James or an Edith Wharton novel. I’m thinking specifically of something like James’ Golden Bowl or Wharton’s Age Of Innocence. In such novels, you have wealthy, well-bred people quietly suffering. In fact, they are so well bred that their emotions are nearly sterile. There’s a distance between their breeding and their feelings that’s nearly unbridgeable. Interestingly enough, Daniel Day Lewis also played the lead role in a film version of Age Of Innocence.

If this is in fact Daniel Day-Lewis’ last movie, it’s an interesting choice. Considering that his most famous roles are those in which he is capital ‘A’ Acting, this is a pretty understated performance.

In comparison to his roles like Lincoln, Bill the Butcher in Gangs Of New York, Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, or even Christy Brown in My Left Foot, this role is so much quieter. In typical Day-Lewis fashion, he obsessively researched dress design, taught himself how to sew, and apparently even tried to make a dress. He stayed in character all the way through the shoot. As usual, he did an awesome job, but for what?

If the director wasn’t Paul Thomas Anderson and if the lead actor wasn’t Daniel Day-Lewis, this film might have won a Sundance award and played in some art houses. Considering that it’s a Paul Thomas Anderson film with possibly Daniel Day-Lewis’ film role, it pretty much was always going to be a critical darling. Sure enough, it’s received multiple Oscar nominations, including film, director, and actor. It could very well run the table.

If it does, I can pretty much guarantee you that ten years from now, it’ll be one of those films that people will look back on and wonder what the Academy was thinking (I’m looking at you, American Beauty).

 

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