Monday, March 26, 2018

Phantom Thread (2017) Combines Beauty with the Bizarre

Photo Credit: Focus Features
A period film is rarely going to be anything else than what you expect. They carry with them a certain routine charm and elegance, and often breathtaking costumes and scenery to draw us into another time. Unless it's an old-fashioned mystery, biopics of twentieth century figures or unrequited love stories in the seventeenth century, aren't pegged to have some massive twist that leaves you feel like you've left a suspenseful thriller. Phantom Thread has all those things you'd expect of a typical period film, but surprisingly, not everything is what it seems.

Hiding twisted secrets underneath its beautiful facade, something hypnotic and unsettling lingers within the gorgeous visuals of director Paul Thomas Anderson's latest feature. A waitress Alma Elson (Vicky Krieps) falls head over heels with fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis). Being in love with Woodcock is to be caught in a beautiful web. With Woodcock's decadent creations comes his elusive charisma and moodiness, a perfectionist attention to detail, and his equally mercurial sister Cyril (Lesley Manville). Will their romance last and how is the question we're not beckoned to ask, but it's one that we find out the answer to in stunning, unimaginable ways.

On the surface, the film is a love story. Alma, Reynolds, and Cyril love his clothes; designing, refining, and bestowing them on women worthy of wearing them. There's such a love of them there's seemingly nothing that can outdo their significance or steal away their attention, except for each one's love of control over their lives and each other.

Just like the canvases he makes with his clothes, there's a pattern to Reynolds's relationships: fall in love with a muse, ,the honeymoon phases out, and he ultimately cheats on his significant other with his work. But unlike Reynolds's past muses, Alma refuses to wear out her welcome. She challenges Reynolds and Cyril wanting more and more, becoming a pawn in their game and also in a step ahead of their moves. They've all found their match in each other, preying on weaknesses to gain the upperhand. Their relationships become less of a tragic romance and more of a Hitchcock mystery, wondering who is going to be the first to submit, what will make them crack: Reynolds's  perfectionism, Cyril's control of their business, or Alma's refusal to be a doormat.

Director and writer Paul Thomas Anderson created a film that has all the ingredients of what you expect of period films we've seen before, from gorgeous costumes and production design to a romance that seems doom to ever work. And yet a bizarre obsession in its characters and story sets itself apart.

Though Daniel Day Lewis earned rightful acclaim for what might be his last film performance ever, Phantom Thread has plenty of stars equally worthy of praise. Vicky Krieps is a force to be reckon with as Alma, a character whose an unshakable force coming up against immovable objects. You never know what's up her sleeve, or if she's ever going to be in on the game that her lover and his sister play. The other is Leslie Manville, stepping out of a career of smaller roles into one that is fiercely resolute, whose steely gaze will make you surrender in an instant. While Lewis definitely gives a good performance worthy of his career's curtain call, the three of them, Anderson's direction make a great team.

To say the least, this is not the romantic film one might anticipate. The whirlwind dalliance you think you're embarking on at the beginning is not exactly the one that unfolds, and that's truly a marvel. Anderson's writing is an example of how a script could've only been produced by its director; his attention to detail is on everything from the quaint English style of Woodcock's workplace and home that's charming but claustrophobic, to the impeccable costume design by Mark Bridges. He manages to make you feel like you've been transported into a beautiful, yet bizarre world of his own design. It's best to go into this with as little knowledge as possible because a big surprise in the characters' relationships can have a gasp-worthy effect (it did for me). As strange and unpredictable as the story evolves, it leaves one wondering so many questions, and with a feeling of having been hypnotized and bewildered.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Phantom Thread?
What did you think?

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