Tuesday, February 6, 2018


London. The 1950s. Any upper class women could surely make some of her society girlfriends green with envy by revealing, "I'm being fitted for a Woodcock."  Paul Thomas Anderson, the writer/director who gave us the generously endowed Dirk Diggler in BOOGIE NIGHTS now gives us Reynolds Woodcock.  Reynolds Woodcock is an artist, an exclusive dress designer.  He's devoted to and obsessed with his work in the House of Reynolds.  Daniel Day-Lewis, owner of three Oscars for Best Actor, received another Best Actor Oscar nomination thanks to his rich performance as the suave designer who is in demand yet can emotionally exhaust people in his immediate realm with his meticulous nature.  Daniel Day-Lewis has said that he's retiring.  If so, he leaves on a high point.
His performance is brilliant. The wise bird look in Reynolds' eyes.  The cultured tone of his voice. The way he carries occasional tension in his shoulders. The elegant way his tasteful clothes fall on him when he fully relaxes and lets his frame be fluid.  This is the same actor who played the most abusive, coarse and morally bankrupt tycoon Southern California fathers since Noah Cross in CHINATOWN.  That was in Paul Thomas Anderson's THERE WILL BE BLOOD, a film that brought Daniel Day-Lewis his second Oscar.  This new one could have had the alternate title THERE WILL BE BLOOD SAUSAGES.  When Reynolds in a romantic and breezy mood, he has a hearty appetite.  I loved watching the relaxed Reynolds order a big breakfast.
The movie hooked me from the opening scene.  We are presented with a rich visual elegance that was commonplace in Old Hollywood films.  It was not unusual to see someone like Cary Grant dress with the kind of elan that Reynolds does in movies of yore.  But, in these modern times, we see a lot of capes and tights for superheroes and casual attire for everyone else.  Reynolds is a magnetic figure.  We see him in his element, holding court.  Our ears are gifted with a sweet jazz rendition of "My Foolish Heart."  Lyrics from that 1940s standard:

"There's a line between love and fascination
That's hard to see, on an evening such as this,
For they both give the very same sensation,
When you're lost in the magic of a kiss..."

When don't hear the lyrics sung on PHANTOM THREAD but they apply to Reynolds.  He becomes enchanted with a young, rather awkward waitress.  He's grown bored with his current girlfriend, as she sadly detects during his fastidious mood during breakfast.  He writes down ideas during breakfast. Simply offering him the wrong kind of pastries can set off his monstrous temper.  This is the self-absorbed and unpredictable side of talents that can make them unbearable.  The one who can always bear with him is his glacially elegant sister.  She will handle the chore of informing the girlfriend that her services are no longer required -- and she will give her a Reynolds Woodcock original as a parting gift. Alma the waitress now fascinates Reynolds. She will move into his heart and his house.  She may seem awkward and unsophisticated. But she is spirited, independent and has a high regard for his art.  The final point is what draws him to her.  Alma becomes his design muse and an employee.  In time, Alma will be his assertive and well-dressed wife.  However, her breakfast table manners put her in the same league as Jeannie Berlin in Elaine May's 1972 comedy, THE HEARTBREAK KID.  She's a noisy eater. This cracks Reynolds' neurotic morning serenity ritual like a New York City jackhammer.  The honeymoon is over.
PHANTOM THREAD has Alfred Hitchcock like touches in its visuals.  One shot recalls the Norman Bates peephole scene in PSYCHO.  Some shots reminded me of DIAL M FOR MURDER.  Reynolds sister, fabulously played by Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Lesley Manville, is a bit like Judith Anderson as Danvers in REBECCA.  She can control the control freak.
PHANTOM THREAD also takes a Hitchcock-like turn.  Is Reynolds slowly being poisoned via breakfast and dinner items -- like Alicia Huberman with the coffee in NOTORIOUS?  The power of fashion designers to create and recreate -- the almost fetish-like behavior of creatures in the fashion world make for fascinating movies.  Look at FUNNY FACE with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire down to Meryl Streep in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA with Meryl Streep and a popular reality TV show like PROJECT RUNWAY.  In that regard, PHANTOM THREAD is no exception.
The fashions are exquisite.  It's the food that brings Reynolds and Alma together, causes friction at the breakfast table and brings them together again later.
Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock is astonishing.  This is the same man who played an Irishman with severe cerebral palsy in MY LEFT FOOT (his first Oscar), starred as the deep-voiced and ruthless oil tycoon in THERE WILL BE BLOOD (his second Oscar) and then gave that extraordinary performance as a troubled president LINCOLN (his third Oscar). PHANTOM THREAD may get a little too fancy for average moviegoers, like the dress Reynolds makes for the plump and insecure Barbara Rose soon to enter into a loveless marriage, but stay with it for the top-rate performances. Especially the one from the master -- Daniel Day-Lewis.

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