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‘Phantom Thread’ review

| Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Andrea Savage | The Observer

“Phantom Thread” doesn’t try to wow.

Outwardly, it is timid, unambitious and introverted. It’s a film about a world-renowned dressmaker at the center of the fashion world in post-war England and his inability to love — or at least love properly. Its plot, characters and conflict don’t scream exuberance, excitement or memorability (and rightfully so). But, they do so, regardless, precisely due to those who were involved in the making the film.

In “Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson (“Inherent Vice,” “Punch Drunk Love”) rejoins with three-time Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln,” “My Left Foot”) in their first reunion since “There Will Be Blood” — a film that the New York Times deemed the “Best Film of the 21st Century” in June of last year. It is their collaboration, their seemingly symbiotic director/actor relationship, that allows a film that has all the potential in the world to be humdrum and morose instead to be compelling and memorable.

The film centers around the relationship between fashion mogul Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) and his model and eventual lover Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps). Day-Lewis’ character is the centerpiece of The House of Woodcock fashion machine, whereas Krieps’ character is a lower-class woman who Woodcock happened to meet a restaurant and fall in love with — at times because of her human qualities and at times because of the way she fits into his dresses. Their relationship crests and troughs throughout the film not because of their personal vices or overblown virtues, but because of Reynolds’ second all-consuming, obsessive love: fashion. It’s a film that, more than anything else, is a work about reconciling love with profession and about how the failure to do so can leave both parties with equally nasty scars.

Both Day-Lewis and Krieps’ characters are incredibly complex, emotionally torn human beings at the heart of an incredibly simple story. The film is one about a man and a woman who struggle to love each other, making it ostensibly similar to the “The Notebook,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and any other romantic comedy. But it’s the little character tics, actions and emotions that makes it more of a complicated, romantic melodrama than a comedy. It’s Day-Lewis’ outburst at buttered instead of salted asparagus, it’s Krieps’ casual mentioning of the fact that she is dating Mr. Woodcock to the princess of Belgium and it’s their longing for each other on New Year’s Eve when they are purposefully separated.

They bring life to a real love story in 1950s England, and not one that involves running someone down before they board a plane. Their love is completely allowed and isn’t broken down by some overdramatic force, but rather by an obsession with work and success — a trend that is far more prevalent than any of the stereotypes in romantic comedies. Yes, their love is one that may be aristocratic and unrepresentative of the majority of England, but, nonetheless, it is a refreshing rehashing of a story that is all too often told in the same manner. And it is one that is told through acting that is worthy of all the praise of it receives. Depicting characters in love is one thing, but depicting characters, who aren’t sure what they love is a completely different and much more difficult talent.

The quality of acting and uniqueness of the story, however, are unattainable without Anderson’s direction and, for the first time, his partial cinematography. In creating the film, Anderson conjures up a unique, historically accurate love story in the London fashion aristocracy and depicts it beautifully. The fiction he creates and the characters that dwell in it are incredibly accomplished, but the story that plays out is by far the most impressive and ambitious part of his direction. In Anderson’s past films, with perhaps the exception of 2014’s “Inherent Vice,” there have been dynamic plots that are constantly changing and keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. In “Phantom Thread,” however, he takes on a static story in which the only naturally exciting part for him is the appearance of his name in the byline. Regardless, his direction makes it exciting, implores you to care and transports you to a completely different world — both through its looks and its feels.

All in all, when I saw the trailer and read the press releases for ”Phantom Thread,“ I wasn’t particularly excited. But I should have been. Anderson and Day-Lewis don’t disappoint — I don’t know why I expected them to.

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