Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest feature is an engrossing, small study of the eccentricity of creative brilliance. Phantom Thread is a subversive, black comedy of manners that moves from the orderly to the pseudo-bizarre. Daniel Day-Lewis (a co-writer of sorts) headlines as Reynolds Woodcock, an ostensible genius dress designer in the hoity-toity milieu of 1950s London.
With Phantom Thread it’s as if Anderson challenged himself to make his version of a Merchant-Ivory film. Of course, PTA adds his wry sense of humor to the genre stylings (and it wouldn’t be an Anderson movie without parental issues!) It is a bare script, but he directs the hell out of it. There are, however, a few scenes that move with a patter distinct of his earlier work. The first date sequence and the scene where Alma—played wonderfully by Vicky Krieps—is invited into Woodcock’s country home (and his world) is as good as any scene this year. Lesley Manville is fabulous in this scene and the entire movie as Woodcock’s strong, loyal sister and enabler.
What the viewer is to take away from the film is that most genius creators are selfish, idiosyncratic pricks. There is an underside to “thinking differently,” but in exchange they produce brilliant work. Whether or not the people around them can reconcile that exchange is dependent on how good their work is or how big of a jerk they are.
Everything is there for this film—acting, directing, costume design, set design, cinematography—but it doesn’t add up to a dazzling whole and it is definitely not good enough to crack the solid PTA top four.