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  • Writer's pictureBruce Klein

Phantom Thread: Review

In Phantom Thread, Reynolds Woodcock (3-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis), is a controlling, persnickety dress designer who picks out a clumsy waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps) at a country inn to become his live-in model. The platonic relationship involves him fitting her in some of the most absolutely stunning dresses (the film received an Oscar for Best Achievement in Costume Design). While a model at his shows, Alma grows closer to the famed designer, and gains the affinity of his unmarried sister and “right-hand” women Cyril (Lesley Manville). Sounds like a lovely life, doesn't it?

Alma quickly falls in love with Mr. Woodcock, but he makes it known that he does not share in her enthusiasm. In fact, it is established pretty early on that when it comes to his personal relationships the subject of love cues Woodcock to harshly reject a romantic partner in exchange for a new one. However, Alma proves herself to be made of sterner stuff. She becomes more than just a paramour when she exerts herself as a protector of Woodcock when an excessive, wealthy and obese major client buys a dress. The distasteful lady goes into a drunken stupor while wearing the creation. Alma, now a guardian of the master's work, convinces Woodcock that the "lady" is not worthy to wear his designs. Upon her encouragement, Woodcock demands that she return the dress. Alma herself takes the dress off in the woman's stupor, ignoring the protests of the woman's lady in waiting. Woodcock is noticeably impressed by this act of blind devotion.

Mr. Woodcock is so proud of Alma’s loyalty; her aspirations toward him are rewarded by a proposal of marriage. She accepts, and a most strange marriage begins. This spoiled Mama’s boy is wed to a woman who wants an appreciative husband but ends up with a driven temperamental man obsessed with his work. She ultimately feeds him poison mushrooms, but not to kill the man who so nonchalantly swings back and forth from loving companion to cruel tormentor. She does it so he can become, although temporary, an exhausted needy-child, when she is once again valued if only as a nurse. This messed up relationship is certainly not your average love story. But when did director Paul Thomas Anderson ever tell any story in an average manner?

This melodrama has excellent production value and acting, but comes with an annoying and repugnant tone filled with coldness and discomfort. The movie is edgy throughout and Mr. Woodcock is constantly a talented compulsive, but people who have no part in his life are ignored, and unequivocally dismissed. Is this the cost of greatness? Is the only way to be a part of the life of a genius is to artificially debilitate them so that they need you? Is this what Anderson wants us to take away from his film? With all its beauty and undeniable talent behind it, Phantom Thread leaves something to be desired. It's a gorgeous facade on a disturbing tale. Or is that the director's point?

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