← Back to Reviews

Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread, 2017

Reynolds (Daniel Day-Lewis) is an exacting fashion designer, the head of his own prestige line of gowns. He meets and falls in love with Alma (Vicky Krieps), a much younger waitress who has what he considers a "perfect" body. Slowly eroding under the critical, dominance Reynolds displays toward her, Alma must look for a way to love him on her own terms, which also involves figuring out how to have power in their relationship.

What does a healthy partnership look like when one partner insists on dominance and the other has no real interest in submission? At first blush, Phantom Thread seems as if it will be a film about a woman being slowly destroyed by the open contempt of a romantic partner who seems to see her more as an object than a person. Perhaps, it seems, everything will end with an act of revenge.

Day-Lewis is, of course, entirely convincing as the eagle-eyed, mercurial Reynolds. He is supported incredibly by Lesley Manville as Reynolds' equally demanding sister, Cyril. (A great sequence involves Reynolds insisting on taking Alma's measurements, interrupted by the arrival of Cyril . . . who then sniffs Alma like she's auditioning for a role in a sequel to Perfume.) But Krieps as Alma is the engine that drives the movie and lends its at once outlandish and human arc a core of credulity.

From the beginning, Alma insists that she wants to love Reynolds in her own way. She is rebuffed by Cyril, and also by Reynolds. In a standout sequence, she surprises him by sending everyone home and serving him a homemade fancy dinner. Petulantly oversalting his food, he notes that she hasn't served the asparagus the way he likes it and he's being such a gentleman by lowering himself to eat it the way she's prepared it. Obviously he is not about to change his ways, so how can Alma find her own peace inside their relationship?

I'm going to stay vague, because two different reviews basically gave away a plot point I wish I hadn't known about before watching the film. But the way that the movie navigates the dynamics between Reynolds and Alma, their own personalities, their independence, but also their co-dependence is really interesting.

The look of the film is really stunning. It won an Oscar for costume design, and it's well deserved. There's a precision and crispness to the look of it all that perfectly mirrors the way that Reynolds approaches everything in his life.

I was surprised as I watched that, despite being very interested in what was happening and taken by the performances, I wasn't that invested in the outcome. It's strange, because I think that we do get a really neat glimpse of how two people evolve into a complex give-and-take of power, but something held me at the surface.

Strong performances and really compelling storytelling. It didn't quite get to me deeply, but a captivating story nonetheless.