Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a man whose pristine taste and eye for detail has made him one of the most revered couture designers. He is an artist in every sense of the word, a visionary who passion for creation is only matched by his need for structure. The latter is something his sister, and loyal right-hand, Cyril (Lesley Manville) ensures is always in places. Even if this means removing Woodcock’s latest castaway girlfriend off the premises.
As is often the case with most great artists, Woodcock’s fame has afforded him the luxury of having a rather belligerent demeanor that is tolerated by all who cherish his lavish gowns. His need to feel in control of every situation is threaten when he meets and falls for a waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps).
Quickly becoming the designer’s latest muse, Alma proves to be more of a challenge than Woodcock anticipated. Not willing to sit back and be subservient to Woodcock’s every whim, Alma is determined to get to know and love Woodcock on her own terms. Unsure of how to deal with Alma’s frequent defiance, Woodcock is forced to realize that love can be annoying, inspiring and maddeningly complicated.
Similar to Punch-Drunk Love, another wonderful love story by director Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread explores how a man traumatized by his relationship with the women in his family, specifically his deceased mother, impacts his notions of intimacy. While Cyril is not abusive to Woodcock like Barry Egan’s sisters are to him in Punch-Drunk Love, though she alludes to being able to crush Woodcock in a fight if he tests her, in both cases it takes a strong a determined woman from outside the clan to show the hot-tempered male a different path. This dynamic adds a captivating and humorous layer to the film.
The relationship between Woodcock and Alma is very much a battle of wills. Woodcock is so used to having his own way that relinquishing even the slightest control sends him into a fluster. He struggles to accept that love means embracing the good and annoying traits, the running breakfast gag is great, that makes one’s partner so enthralling.
For their parts, Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps are both brilliant as the central couple. Their performances are matched by Lesley Manville’s wonderful turn as the calculating Cyril, whose prim and proper ways include ensuring her hair is in place prior to speaking. However, as with all films by Anderson, the performances are just one of the elements that make Phantom Thread such magnetic experience.
The dialogue, sound design, and cinematography are simply exquisite; each component helping to shape a luminous portrait of an unconventional love. Phantom Thread is a masterwork in filmmaking and once again proves that Paul Thomas Anderson is one of this generation’s most important filmmakers.