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The Phantom Thread

Year: 2017
Studio: Focus Features
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Cast: Daniel Day Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

The themes and subtexts are undoubtedly there. Paul Thomas Anderson's too smart a filmmaker not to include them. Maybe it's got to do with family, desire versus responsibility, how humans needing each other can sometimes be dysfunctional or something else entirely.

Being about such a self absorbed protagonist surrounded by women whose sole purpose seems to be to bow and scrape to his creative whims and the one woman in his life who refuses to do so, I actually found it to be partly about how renowned male artists are indulged until their confidence and ability seem unshakeable, but that deep down they're as insecure and terrified at being found out as the rest of us.

But that's probably one of the strengths of the movie – that it meets you only halfway, expecting you to fill in the gaps with your own experience of the world.

I talk about (and hope for) all that because of how drab and empty the story on screen actually is – again, unless I was just too stupid to pick up the allegories. On the surface it's essentially a stuffy domestic drama about a postwar British clothing designer, Reynolds Woodcock (usual Anderson muse Daniel Day Lewis) and his struggle to perform his best work while wielding iron fisted control over every aspect of his life.

When he falls in love (or as close to it as it seems possible) with a young model who falls into his circle, Alma (Vicky Krieps), control goes out the window in the messy vagaries of relationships, and even though Alma is soft spoken and starts out kind of naive, she won't be cowed.

For one thing, Reynolds likes to have breakfast in companionable but complete silence, his shrewd longtime business partner and sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) obliging him. But to his annoyance, Alma wants to talk and connect when they sit down to eat.

When Reynolds falls ill late in the film (thanks to a plot turn I won't reveal here, because it seems in hindsight to be the backbone of the story), Cyril orders everyone out so he can get peace and quiet and she intends to be the one who'll nurse him because she's always been his right hand, but a fairly inspiring power struggle ensues as it's Alma who orders Cyril out of the room as well, fully intending to stay with Reynolds because, after all, it's her right to tend to him as his wife.

The plot itself is just a few weeks in the life of Reynolds, Alma, Cyril and the seamstresses and customers who frequent their stately London terrace house, but when Alma finds her resolve and commits an act that's frankly an awful thing to do, it goes from being a quite staid and stuffy domestic drama to a quite staid and stuffy domestic gothic melodrama.

It's just that the journey to get there is all so dour and devoid of tension or turmoil. Anderson's usual fastidiousness as a director is on show with the production design and period detail all top notch, but if you're watching it to see another of Lewis' chameleon-like performances it's buried so deep under layers of obfuscation it might as well not even be there.

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