Imagine Paul Thomas Anderson blending a romantic comedy with a Hitchcockian drama. The result is Phantom Thread, one of the most beautiful romances I’ve had the pleasure of living in. He allows us to exist in this world, taking time to explore each moment and guiding the viewer through every door and hall of the Woodcock household, in rooms where love is as tender as it is dreadful.
Anderson’s script sways between levity and discomfort, creating an ambience that never allows for predictability. Love isn’t a topic unfamiliar to the filmmaker considering his past works, but it’s explored in a unique fashion here, with all its toxicity and beauty placed front and center. With the director himself serving as cinematographer (though humbly without crediting himself), the visuals feel like an extension of what he’s been exploring in his music videos.
Phantom Thread, for all its mystique, is a period romance at its core. It tells the tale of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), a renowned dressmaker who loves nothing but the clothing he makes, his stoic sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), and the dead mother whose picture he sews into the canvas of his personal suits. That is until he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a seemingly modest waitress who becomes much more to him. She is at once a muse and a burden, and even the true protagonist of this love story, as Anderson frames the film curiously around her recalling their story.
It’s fascinating to watch Day-Lewis and Krieps interact and explore love in all its forms (with Manville’s performance only elevating them by allowing them to bounce off her reactions as the third wheel of sorts). Where she stares at him with nothing but fondness in her eyes, he takes her in as though she was a model at first; a body to be measured, to be dressed, to be modeled, and to inspire. But with any relationship, there are shifts in mood, and Anderson captures how grating it can be when things aren’t as tender as we want them to be. Every distraction and frustration is as important as every kiss and embrace.
The passage of time is simply presented, fading from one season to the next, but the weight of time on a relationship has weight. Anderson occasionally allows for a long take for the actors to deliver lines both loving and scathing without interruption, serving their performances beautifully. And every ounce of Phantom Thread’s production feels immaculately put together, from Mark Bridges’ costuming to Jonny Greenwood’s score; the latter feeling like a surprising and romantic change of pace for the musician that feels wholly unique and fitting to this insular portrait of 1950s London that Anderson has created.
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; written by Paul Thomas Anderson; starring Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Lesley Manville;