Monday, February 19, 2018

Lackluster Love: Phantom Thread Blends Boredom And Beauty

The Good: Decent performances and cinematography
The Bad: Pacing, Dull characters, Virtually plotless, Flaccid characters
The Basics: P.T. Anderson disappoints with Phantom Thread.

In the ten days since I saw Phantom Thread, I have been trying to muster up the enthusiasm to write about the cinematic experience. I love the works of writer/director P.T. Anderson. Indeed, in my life full of experiences, one of my most enjoyable memories of an event I attended was a screening with Anderson at which I had a chance to stump the artist with an insightful question and meet him. Ever since Magnolia (reviewed here!), I have been a loyal devotee of P.T. Anderson's works. So, after weeks of trying to find a movie theater within 200 miles playing Anderson's latest, Phantom Thread, I was particularly excited when it was playing at a theater a block away from the hotel I was staying on my recent business trip. My first night on the road, I eagerly went to see Phantom Thread.

And, wow, was I disappointed.

Phantom Thread is no Magnolia. It's no Punch-Drunk Love (reviewed here!) even. The comparison between Punch-Drunk Love and Phantom Thread is an important one; Punch-Drunk Love featured two characters - one in deep emotional pain, the other who appears to be straitlaced and intensely normal - and the two develop an unlikely romantic relationship that builds to an important moment when the expectations about Emily Watson's character are suddenly and brilliantly subverted. Punch-Drunk Love is complicated, quirky, and artistically-delivered in a way that encourages rewatching. Phantom Thread is just boring. Phantom Thread lacks a spark of intrigue or chemistry between the two protagonists (whereas, in Punch-Drunk Love the important character aspect of the protagonist is clearly laid out - he is a man constantly betrayed who is looking for love and needs the security of someone who will not subvert his trust - and he has impressive chemistry with his romantic partner). Unlike something where there are two people who, on the surface, seem to have nothing in common developing a romance, Phantom Thread is plagued by two characters who have nothing in common, no chemistry, and no real interest in one another insisting that they are in a relationship of some sort (it never appears actually romantic).

Reynolds Woodcock is a fashion designer in London, where he runs an upscale boutique with his sister. His dresses are highly sought-after and he goes for breakfast at a little restaurant where Alma works. Woodcock asks Alma out (though it is phrased more as a demand) and he insists on bringing her back to his fashion house where he uses her as a mannequin to design a new dress. After a series of such moments where Woodcock uses Alma's body as a form for his new works, Alma starts to realize that she is not actually important to Woodcock. So, she poisons him so he will be helpless and is forced to rely upon her, but - of course - as soon as he gets better, he reverts to neglecting her.

And it's 2 hours and ten minutes of Daniel Day-Lewis acting stiff, focused, and unlikable. Day-Lewis is fine playing such an emotionally-distant and, on a moment's notice, angry character, but it seems like a truly weird note to end his acting career on. In a similar way, Vicky Krieps plays Alma well as a woman who is subtly begging for affection - though she is not given enough of a role to sufficiently explain why Alma accepts Woodcock from the beginning to make her character at all compelling. And Lesley Manville makes Cyril weird and authoritative through her performance . . . though the character is not particularly interesting.

P.T. Anderson directs Phantom Thread beautifully, but that does not make the story any more compelling, less boring or worth writing more about.


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2018 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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