The amazing thing about films is that you can pretty much find whatever you want no matter the mood you are in. If you are frustrated and want to see things blow up, there are a mass of action films. There are many comedy films for if you need to laugh and plenty of tragedies if you need to cry. And you can watch things that appeal to your most base desires as an audience even if it is ridiculous. I mean, they didn’t make a gazillion Sharknado movies for nothing. At the other end of the scale is Phantom Thread which is about as high brow as you can get. But is it also good?
Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood) is one of the top designers of the 1950s, making dresses for the finest in society. He brings Alma (Vicky Krieps, Hanna) into his business after falling for her but her forthright manner starts to disturb the way he works.
Now this is a classy movie, possibly the classiest that I have ever reviewed. It’s just a movie that screams up-market and would be at home sitting in a plush restaurant discussing the finer points of Nikolai Gogol’s wok. But all the classiness in the world cannot make up for a limp plot. In essense, this movie is about a genius that is difficult to live with. It may try and disguise that with great acting, but it’s basically the same plot we’ve seen from the likes of Sherlock and Iron Man in the last few years. It’s a cliché that is just starting to come to the end of its natural lifespan and this movie doesn’t really do anything new with it. It doesn’t explore why a genius might end up being so difficult with or how he got to be that genius. Just that he is a difficult genius. It was far more enjoyable when it was Tony Stark making power suits to be honest.
You could also argue that it is in fact a love story and a twisted one at that. Alma and Reynolds love each other or at least we are told so. It starts off sweetly enough and you can see at the start that they do actually care about each other. But any care you have this romance ends as soon as Reynolds starts to be creepy. A line that he geniunely says is that he likes the fact that Alma’s breasts are small because then he as a dressmaker can decide how big they are. As red flags go that’s a pretty big one. And apart from those brief scenes at the beginning, you never really see why this is a relationship that continues or one that you should care about.
You may feel sorry for Alma and for a while you do. You urge at the screen for her to leave this obviously insane man. But then the story unfolds and it does become more interested as Alma who is shown to not just be a pretty face but someone who will fight for herself and to make the relationship better. But while that may be, they aren’t people you want to spend time with.
What this leads to is a movie that feels very cold. There is very little to care about. So while you appreciate all the moving parts because there are plenty of wonderful things such as some fantastic performances, stunning cinematography and of course the excellent production design, you never feel connected to it. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe you aren’t meant to like any of the characters or feel a closeness to it and instead the movie is a character study. But in my opinion, the movie even fails at that because it’s a character study of an archetype we’ve seen a lot over the last few years.
Phantom Thread may be classy and you may earn some snob points at a dinner party when you say you’ve watched but it doesn’t provide any sort of experience. I demand to feel some sort of emotional connection to a movie when I watch it and this failed in that most simple of tasks. There is plenty of craft in this movie and you may be able to admire the many well put together elements that make up the movie. But to be honest if you want to see a romance you hate, you might as well watch Love Island. At least someone else might care if you talk about that.
Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
Scr: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lesley Manville, Vicky Krieps
Prd: Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, JoAnne Sellar, Daniel Lupi
DOP: Paul Thomas Anderson
Music: Jonny Greenwood
Runtime: 130 minutes
The Phantom Thread is out on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download on 18th June 2018.