“Phantom Thread”: A Series of Unfortunate Fashion Faux Pas

Movie Review graphic

Michael Blackshire

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the finest directors living today and is truly one of the most successful auteurs of his generation. But his latest film may polarize audiences who loved his recent work.

“Phantom Thread,” which Anderson acknowledges is a tip of the hat to the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock classic “Rebecca,” certainly does not afford the same compliment as a genuine gothic romance as the film was wanting to convey.

“Rebecca” starts with an almost damsel in distress woman who randomly meets an affluent man. She goes on a date with said rich man, then moves into the man’s mansion which seems too quick for real life relationship situations.

What makes “Phantom Thread” a far cry from “Rebecca” is the last hour which turns into scenes from a marriage. Not even the Ingmar Bergman miniseries, but a scene from miserable people’s marriages.

Without giving away too much of the latter half of the film, I can say I was less than smitten with Reynolds becoming slightly jealous that his wife Alma was not looking at him at a dinner table. Mind you, Reynolds decided to sit across the other end of the dinner table with several other guests.

In the most cliché set piece for a dialogue scene in an Anderson film, we see our older gentleman protagonist Reynolds Woodcock reading while his wife Alma wants to go out and celebrate New Year’s Eve with dancing. Being the old man that Mr. Woodcock is, he sternly says he’s not interested when there is work to be done and from there the younger wife has fun while the older husband gets jealous.

A truly landmark set of scenes comprise the climax, which makes you wonder if Anderson thought the year was 1989 and “Driving Miss Daisy” was his competition for the best picture at the Oscars. The film gives the smallest of details about fashion to the point where one can inquire if Anderson truly studied 1950s fashion during the writing of the screenplay outside of a glance for definition purposes.

The job of the screenwriter is to teach the motion picture audience their characters’ world. Woodcock knows fashion, yet hardly wants to talk about the crafting of the fabric. The character of Reynolds Woodcock should fetishize his work as his only vice in the world. Instead Reynolds uses his work as an excuse for being a male bachelor because he’s busy, instead of being entranced by the fabrics. Tight shots of Reynolds poking his thumb while sewing while the Johnny Greenwood score plays would’ve been an excellent addition to the film.

Reynolds says early in the film, “I’m certain I was never meant to marry. I’m a confirmed bachelor; I’m incurable.” This is the point where the audience is lead to believe his obsession with dresses is his only true love, that these inanimate dresses can never love him back, but no human being can ever fulfill the void his dresses do.

Instead, we get a cluster of a pretentious human being who treats his brand as a way to pay the bills. Leslie Manville’s character, if you can truly even consider her a real in-depth character, has a demeanor that is truly of a mannequin. Her character never develops into more than the woman that’s supportive of her brother.

The muse of Reynolds is Alma Elson who is brilliantly played by Vicky Krieps. Anderson should’ve made her the main character and turned Daniel Day Lewis’s Woodcock into more of a supportive role. Vicky Kriep’s performance and Anderson’s cinematography are the best parts of the film.

The shooting on the Panavision Panaflex is executed perfectly on 35mm and I’m saddened that Anderson didn’t give himself a director of photography credit. Anderson truly could’ve made a film with a subversive narrative.

Imagine if Reynold’s Woodcock was less of a stubborn wanker and more of a socially awkward quiet man who obsessed over dresses more than his love life. His character and his surrounding characters are so high class, you hope there’s at least one homespun moment in a group of snobby fashion aristocrats.

Reynolds Woodcock never gets the comeuppance he truly deserves in a film were he says his wife has cast a dark shadow over his household, which is a complaint similar to a billionaire upset over paying high taxes. Anderson should have reimagined the film’s bourgeoisie exterior with at least a substantial amount of reflective interior.

If someone was looking for Anderson’s “Eyes Wide Shut,” then they’re in the wrong movie. Stanley Kubrick’s film dissented the idea of high class and gave the middle class audience their money’s worth of acknowledging that the upper class actually have copious amounts of skeletons in their closet. Sadly, Anderson decided to keep those skeletons hidden.

Reporter Michael Blackshire can be reached at 270-745-2655 or [email protected].