Although you’d never know it from the original posters, Phantom Thread has very little to do with fashion. Take away the pretty dresses, gorgeous period art direction and cinematography, and that sumptuous, Oscar-nominated score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and what you’re left with is essentially Paul Thomas Anderson’s Fifty Shades of Grey. And, just to clarify, that is not a compliment.
Nominated for six Academy Awards – including surprise Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress nods for the long overdue Leslie Manville (Another Year, Topsy-Turvy) – Thread is truly beautiful and enthralling, but, ultimately unravels at the seams far too early to make any sort of lasting impression. That’s a real shame because this is the first film in writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) bizarro toxic male trilogy – which started with The Master and Inherent Vice and could also probably include huge swaths of There Will Be Blood as well – that really captured my imagination like his early films did. And a big part of that might be because Thread features two of the meatiest female roles in Anderson’s substantial canon of well-written female characters.
Not only does Manville devour every scene she’s in with her regal, perfectly clipped dialogue and the air of a classic, Hitchcockian villain, but newcomer Vicky Krieps (Hanna, We Used to be Cool) more than holds her own as the feisty young muse/interloper who rattles Daniel Day-Lewis’ celebrity couturier, Reynolds Woodcock, to the core. Much has been made about this being the last chance to see Day-Lewis onscreen due to his rumored retirement, but if you ask me, the best reason to sit through this dreary, overlong soap opera is to watch Manville and Krieps rip into one another onscreen. It’s like Dynasty for the Masterpiece Theater crowd. So good!
Set in London’s posh, head-spinningly glamorous House of Woodcock in the early 1950’s, Thread follows the adventures of celebrated dressmaker Woodcock (Day-Lewis) and his stern, overbearing sister, Cyril (Manville). Stuck in something of a rut after growing weary of his latest in a long line of beautiful, dead-eyed muses, Woodcock has Cyril send the poor girl packing and seeks inspiration elsewhere by racing off to his country estate.
Stopping for breakfast along the way, Woodcock finds inspiration and so much more in the form of a lovely, swan-like waitress named Alma (Krieps). Transfixed by her beauty and cool, take-no-prisoners demeanor, Woodcock whisks Alma off to London where she quickly becomes his live-in, muse de jour. Cyril, who manages all of the day-to-day business affairs at the House of Woodcock and has grown used to her brother’s serial womanizing by now senses something different about Alma, however, and decides to do everything she can to make the young woman’s stay in London as brief as possible.
But Alma is far less pliable and timid than Woodcock’s usual paramours and proves to be a particularly thorny adversary – not just for Cyril, but for Woodcock himself as well – and there, the bloody battle for control begins.
Dark, strangely compelling, but also coldly remote, Thread ultimately tries to be too many things at once and though it works in spots and the film is never boring, even the crazy kinky love triangle/power struggle between the three leads grows tedious after a while. And at the end of the day, elegant costumes – Costume Designer Mark Bridges took home Thread’s sole Oscar for his impeccable work here – powerful performances, and top-notch production values will only get you so far if the story doesn’t pay off.
And though Anderson tries his damnedest to make Thread about something more than power mad artists and murderously beautiful muses there is just not enough “there” there to make it all work and Thread ends up being just another lovely, if mostly forgettable, dress in the shop window of Anderson’s increasingly out-of-touch oeuvre.
Now playing on select Qatar Airways flights worldwide, Phantom Thread expands to IFE screens on Delta, Singapore Airlines, United, Air Canada, and a handful of other carriers tomorrow, April 1st. And though Thread doesn’t hit the streaming rental market until April 10th, it is available now to purchase on Google Play, iTunes, and Amazon Video.