Phantom Thread (R)
If Daniel Day-Lewis is true to his word, Phantom Thread will be his final film. The three-time Oscar winner has vowed to retire from acting after his second collaboration with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. Day-Lewis is nominated for this film too, because, well, he’s DDL.
As Reynolds Woodcock, a 1950’s fashion designer in London, Day-Lewis speaks in his actual voice, or I think he does anyway. Has anyone ever really heard it? Known for taking method acting to extremes, Day-Lewis studied fashion and helped choose many of the clothes and accessories in the film. He worked with Anderson to create the character and even chose his name, which truthfully, is one of my favorite things about the movie.
Reynolds runs a successful fashion house with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), who watches over the business and her brother very closely. When he tires of his latest girlfriend, Cyril kindly offers to send her packing. However, he doesn’t wait very long before flirting with a waitress at a restaurant in the countryside. Alma (Vicky Kreips) is slightly awkward, slightly foreign (they never say where she’s from), and pretty but not previous girlfriend pretty. Reynolds is fascinated with her (I’m still not sure why). Before you can say “Would you like some more coffee?” he’s designing dresses for her and she’s got her own room in his house, but she’s also working for him as a seamstress, which I found confusing.
Things go well until Alma has the nerve to butter her toast and chew too loudly at breakfast. Obviously nobody told her that former girlfriend got her walking papers after talking to Reynolds at breakfast. Alma tries to understand Reynolds, who is demanding, introspective, fussy, distant and occasionally just plain mean. What does she see in him? There sure isn’t much passion there. Anderson never really bothers to flesh out Alma’s character. And when Alma decides to do something drastic to get Reynolds to focus his attention on her, we don’t really get why. Except that Anderson always has to introduce something extreme and odd into his screenplays, even the fancy ones.
Day-Lewis’s Reynolds is dapper and polished, precise and dedicated to his craft. Phantom Thread (R for language) is heavy on close-ups so we spend a lot of time watching Day-Lewis deliver withering gazes, thoughtful glances and the rare wrinkled-eye smile. It’s a much more restrained and nuanced performance than his Oscar-winning role in Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” where Anderson allowed Day-Lewis to chew significant amounts of scenery. Krieps is good enough to hold her own against Day-Lewis, but again, her character is critically undeveloped and the relationship just doesn’t seem real.
For that I blame Anderson. I also blame Anderson for 2014’s awful Inherent Vice, the mess of 1999’s Magnolia and for all that milkshake business in There Will Be Blood. Like all of Anderson’s movies, Phantom Thread is too long (Magnolia clocked in at over three grueling hours). Boogie Nights, my favorite of Anderson’s films also runs long, but it’s a great story packed with fascinating characters and a killer soundtrack, so it flies by. Phantom Thread is 2 hours and 10 minutes and I checked my watch 17 times. It is brutally slow. I think Day-Lewis is a handsome guy but I don’t want to stare at him as he stares at his fellow actors for what seems like an eternity. The one thing that might have moved things along a bit would be giving Manville more screen time. She’s terrific, and also up for an Oscar next month.
I believe that Daniel Day-Lewis will follow through on his vow to quit acting. He doesn’t strike me as a guy who makes random threats. And that makes me sad. I guess in a way, we should be grateful to Anderson for making this great actor’s swan song last for so long.
Phantom Thread ΗΗΗ