Please excuse the hyperbole, but Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is the kind of film that makes cinephiles want to double down on their commitment to movies.
Somewhat of a slow burn initially, his exercise in character study and atmosphere building quickly pulls viewers into its world without the aid of all that much style nor a traditional narrative arc.
The ’50-set romance between renowned London dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and immigrant Alma (Vicky Krieps) posits whether a person may be dedicated to his or her art and have a healthy romantic relationship. (It also suggests Anderson’s wife Maya Rudolph can dish it out as well as she can take it.)
In its exploration of the complex dynamic between artist and muse, it draws somewhat warranted comparisons to Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, namely what the creator will put the inspiration through in the name of the craft, but beyond those basic shared qualities the similarities cease.
For all its oddities and profile of an extremely difficult and flawed man, Phantom Thread is an enjoyable experience that finds whimsy and absurdist humor — several times achieved through exaggerated breakfast table foley — intertwined with cringe-worthy moments, all areas in which mother! comes up painfully short.
Unlike anything Anderson has done before, the closest parallel within his diverse portfolio may be the mentor/mentee dichotomy of The Master, as well as its unusual triangle once the Reynolds/Alma relationship coexists with Mike Leigh regular Lesley Manville as Reynolds’ sister Cyril.
Watching these three performers deliver Anderson’s finely crafted dialogue and command each of his frames is a pleasure of the highest order and one all the more enchanting thanks to impeccable costume design, tasteful classical musical selections and a phenomenal original score by Jonny Greenwood.
In addition to wildly varying subject matter from film to tantalizing film, the writer/director’s general abandonment of working with the same stable of actors after Magnolia has helped foster a more wholly new and unpredictable experience each time.
Back-to-back Joaquin Phoenix collaborations and a few overlapping supporting turns aside, Anderson has been greatly expanding his dramatic reach over that span, though as with his 10-year gap between Philip Seymour Hoffman films (Punch-Drunk Love and The Master), the reunion with Day-Lewis a decade after There Will Be Blood is comparably thrilling in its clear similarities and differences with that past performance.
Should it prove to indeed be Day-Lewis’ final film, it’s an excellent one on which to exit, and one that gives rise to a new star in Krieps and the crowning of a long-deserving one in Manville, who’s at last given the opportunity to break out.
Grade: A. Rated R. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Focus Features)