Monday, January 17, 2022

Phantom Thread: A Well-Sewn Crew Fails to Hold the Plot Together


“Phantom Thread” follows the story of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a renowned dressmaker in 1950’s London. With the help of his sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), Woodcock lives a fastidious life tuned to his art and schedule; and like his art, he prefers everything to be woven into place as he sees it. His life takes a turn, however, when he meets a young waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps). The two instantly become infatuated with one another, and soon, Alma finds herself immersed in Woodcock’s life as his lover.

Tensions begin to rise between the two as Alma’s attempts at growing closer to Woodcock only end with him resisting. Woodcock is determined to keep his new lover from disrupting the routines he’s accustomed to, while Alma is prepared to do whatever it takes to earn Woodcock’s love and favor. Even if it means putting his health at risk.

Before I address my thoughts on the film, I want to make it clear that I am a huge fan of actor Daniel Day-Lewis. I’ve seen the man portray a Native American, an Oilman, even Abraham Lincoln—and I loved him in every film. Which is why it breaks this critic’s heart to inform my readers that Daniel Day-Lewis has announced his retirement. Yes, three-time Academy Award winning actor—for various personal reasons—has declared his desire to end his acting career, meaning “Phantom Thread” just might be his final film. Which now brings me to my second most painful part of this review I must now divulge: I did not care for the movie.

With a title like “Phantom Thread,” the film being set in 1950’s London, and the main character being a fashion designer, there were multiple routes I expected the film to go. I had thought the movie would focus on the Fashion Industry and the arduous lifestyle it leads to when trying to live up to the expectations of critics and judgmental peers. Or perhaps a commentary on the relationship between dressmaker and model and the lives they lead while working in the industry. Instead, “Phantom Thread” is nothing more than a Romance Drama about a meticulous dressmaker and odd waitress during the 1950’s. All in all, it’s a missed opportunity. Which is an even greater shame considering the movie was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the same man who made the critically acclaimed 2007 hit: “There Will Be Blood.”

I’ve seen enough films in my career that I can usually tell what didn’t work in a movie. Sometimes it’s a poor director, a poor script, a bad actor, or sometimes a little bit from each. I’ve already given enough praise to Daniel Day-Lewis; anyone familiar with his range of method acting will find his performance top tier. The sets and camera work are all well put together and a complete triumph in the films favor. Where the film fails, however, is in the love interest—Alma.

As a romance movie, “Phantom Thread” failed to engage me in its love story. We spend the first quarter of the movie learning about Daniel Day-Lewis’ character, that Vicky Krieps’ character becomes overshadowed, with little room for development. All I remember about Krieps’ performance was the actress spending fifty percent of the film staring blankly in absolute silence, while occasionally forcing a smile. And—without chancing spoilers—when certain scenes follow during the rising tension in the movie, it seems to come out of left field with little reason, which left me feeling more confused than invested.

Overall, where the story falls flat is in the writing and directing when it came to the female love interest. I mean no offense to the directing style of Paul Thomas Anderson or the acting of Vicky Krieps—sometimes even the most talented artist can make mistakes and poor creative decisions. Intentionally or not, however, these errors hurt what could’ve been an outstanding movie.

“Phantom Thread” is rated R for language. Giving the amount of praise the film has been receiving, I believe most of it stems from Daniel Day-Lewis’ acting talents, the expensive set pieces, costumes, and the photography. In the end, though, the only way I could recommend this movie to anyone would be if you’re a diehard fan of Daniel Day-Lewis who needs to see his last film on the big screen. And the fact that this just might be the film he ends his career on is all the more tragic. Which is why, with a heavy heart, I give “Phantom Thread” a 6 out of 10.

Marco Island resident and avid moviegoer, Matthew Mendisana is a Lynn University alumnus. While he possesses a bachelor’s degree in science, it’s the arts that attracted his attention. In his four years at Lynn, Matthew managed to achieve Magna Cum Laude status, earn three publications in the Lynn University magazine, make a short documentary featured in the university’s Film Festival, and created a radio PSA that was later broadcasted overseas.

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