Paul Thomas Anderson returns to the screen with another near impeccable picture, capturing a darkly comic romance between his stars Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps; blunt edges and all.
Day-Lewis plays Woodcock, a fashion designer, renowned across Europe, Krieps is Alma, an immigrant waitressing in his country getaway town, and after a ridiculously delicious sounding breakfast order, the two find themselves at dinner and off on their master and muse relationship that very evening; or so it would seem. Alma isn’t here to just fawn over the genius of Woodcock, she is tougher and stronger than that, and she knows what is best for him, even if it might not seem like it. Their love story unfolds rapidly, as Alma moves in and begins working for Woodcock and his sister, Cyril, all while butting heads, neither of them ready to back down. Their squables are often hilarious and the passions never lets out, until it does, and needs to be kick started again.
Like Anderson’s filmography, this is a film about characters and relationships, not plotting, yet Phantom Thread whips along as the whirlwind of love, fashion and newness envelopes Alma as we ride on her coattails as she dives head first into this world. The story here is Alma’s, she is narrating it to us, and while Anderson doesn’t fully commit to only her point of view, we are almost always on her side, trying to figure out Woodcock and what he means for her. The film propels along the way it does, as well as it does, thanks to Jonny Greenwood’s wonderful score and accompanying period tracks. The film is almost wall to wall scored, the music waltzing you along with Alma, and I can imagine this score/soundtrack playing in my household for eternity. In fact, the film is one I just want to jump back in and experience again and again. I was grinning throughout this film, laughing at the fights and lines that come out of this couple’s mouths as they annoy one another, while swooning at moments where their love shines brightest. Is this a healthy relationship, no, but it is a passionate one, and Anderson does an incredible job of pulling us through the sensuality of the relationship and the tension that comes out the other side.
The film is mostly a two-hander between Day-Lewis and Krieps, but Lesley Manville is always around the corner as Cyril, ready to hurl quiet fire through her dagger eyes or devastating retorts. I love the way she can soften without losing that glare with Alma, and she probably gets the best line of the film when Woodcock tries to turn his grumps towards her and she lets him know that shit won’t fly; “I’ll go right through you.” Day-Lewis is getting much attention for Phantom Thread, proclaiming it to be his final film, and if that is so he goes out with a bang. Hilarious, charming, nasty, devilishly handsome, the film is a showcase for the star and he nails it as we’ve come to expect from him. Woodcock is a son of a bitch, but we also can see why Alma is drawn to him and believe every ounce of love he has for her; even as she maddens his particulars. Krieps is on the other side of the relationship, devilish in her own way, and just as nasty, charming and hilarious. Krieps has never had a role like this in her young career, but she goes toe to toe with Day-Lewis and doesn’t miss a beat. Krieps makes Alma Woodcock’s equal and she’s just about as good as Day-Lewis is too. She just gives us so many sides to this woman and while you might not agree with some of her tactics to keep her man in check, you at least understand where she’s coming from in the end. They need to be challenged, Alma and Woodcock, and Krieps and Day-Lewis do the same.
Phantom Thread is wonderful. Paul Thomas Anderson continues to keep himself in the running of our greatest living filmmakers, and I can only imagine Phantom Thread growing in my praise on future viewings. The film is as beautifully crafted as the Woodcocks’ dresses and the romance will resonate with anyone who has had a real and honest relationship with someone. Phantom Thread is one of the year’s absolute best.