The world of Paul Thomas Anderson is one in which the mundane, everyday lives of its characters are already riveting before something positively insane happens. Look at his most recent films—had There Will Be Blood only been about the hunt for oil against a beautifully bleak landscape, you would still have a terrific character study framed within the classic American struggle between faith and industry…but then it happens. Inherent Vice has a story that is constantly spiraling out of control, but every second is remarkable for how it carries the filmic acid trip to a crescendo; even if nothing were wrapped up, it would have been a worthwhile experience.
With Phantom Thread, Anderson explores the life of a celebrated dressmaker in 1950s London whose genius is only matched by his obstinance in maintaining his routine, though he is seemingly unaware of his own predictability. If this were four hours of making dresses and being an especially snooty kind of grumpy at breakfast, it would already be one of the best films of the year. Better yet, it has PTA’s delicate yet firm direction, Jonny Greenwood’s score that is the best of his career, and utterly genius performances by Daniel Day-Lewis (who has said this is his final film), Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps.
R, 130 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Violet Crown Cinemas
Day-Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, whose dresses are worn by high society. He is very sensitive and fussy, with mood shifts that are as dependable as they are impenetrable. He cycles through girlfriends who are drawn in by his charm and elegance, yet cannot handle his most difficult aspects. His sister, Cyril (Manville), has functioned as his handler and business partner for so long that she is the only one able to tolerate and guide these episodes.
Reynolds meets Alma (Krieps), a waitress, while on holiday in the country and she comes to occupy a unique place in his life, somewhere between girlfriend, muse and assistant. However, as Reynolds rotates through his attitude cycle, he is only ever ready for one.
Where it goes from there is best left unsaid, and this is where discussing Phantom Thread becomes tricky. If there were a twist, we could find a way to dance around it to leave you guessing, but there is no twist in the classic sense. It would be more accurate to say that the film carries you to places you might not expect so naturally that you don’t notice. When it gets where it’s going, you realize you’ve been headed there the whole time, and in the part of your brain that would process the shock of a twist, you’ll find only delight. Spoiler warnings don’t exactly apply, but this film is best experienced as freshly as possible.
What can be said is that every aspect of the filmmaking is done with impeccable taste and humor. It is far funnier than you might expect; every laugh in the film is earned, and never at the expense of its own integrity. Day-Lewis is dazzling and Manville is a delight, but the revelation here is Krieps as Alma. She is largely unknown outside of Europe, but the interplay between her and Day-Lewis is astonishing, appearing effortless but almost certainly was anything but.
Though we can’t exactly tell you why, Phantom Thread is one of the best films of 2017. See it now so you’re not left wondering what all the fuss is about at the Oscars.
Playing this week
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
12 Strong, Disco Godfather, The Greatest Showman, I, Tonya, Paddington 2, The Post, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
12 Strong, Call Me By Your Name, Coco, Den of Thieves, The Commuter, Darkest Hour, The Greatest Showman, Insidious: The Last Key, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Paddington 2, The Post, Pitch Perfect 3, Proud Mary, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
12 Strong, Call Me By Your Name, The Commuter, Darkest Hour, I, Tonya, The Post, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri