Phantom Thread, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights), is set in 1950’s London, where Reynolds Woodcock, a celebrated dressmaker has his fussy life disordered by a stubborn woman named Alma, who becomes a lover that he mulls over. This is very much a foreign film that was unsuccessful in its failed approach to innovative cinematography. We see camera angles in tight spaces shot by P.T. Anderson himself, who shot on location in London. Anderson’s direction of photography looked like it would fit perfectly on television as opposed to the silver-screen. A series of eccentrically angled shots were used throughout the picture, with viewpoints behind the rails of stair cases and eaves-dropping perspectives of voyeurism. P.T. Anderson’s use of extreme-close-ups was an obvious technical preference throughout his picture with coffee pots boiling, tea kettles steaming, breakfast confections being devoured, and pins penetrating textiles for dressmaking. The camera was intentionally wobbly and trembled, calling attention to itself in the wrong way. P.T. Anderson’s cinematography was questionable, more notably since it went uncredited in the end titles.
Phantom Thread is excellent for its originality and eccentricity, but, dull for its entertainment; unless you think you’ll think you’ll be amused by a story about a spoiled and sensitive dressmaker who fusses and pouts with contained madness when there’s too much noise being made at the breakfast table. That’s Reynolds Woodcock, a character performed by none-other-than six-time Oscar nominee and three-time Best Actor award winning method-thespian, Daniel Day Lewis (Last of the Mohicans). Woodcockisa strange and troubled man with a longing love for his deceased mother.He’s unmarried because “Marriage would make him deceitful.” We can imagine that his backstory is that of a child who became a man that was always spoiled by his mother and lived in the land of women. Due to his profession, as we see throughout the film, where Alma, his lover, comments that he’s “handsome” and that he “must be surrounded by women all day.”
Reynolds has a pestering demeanor toward women that’s easily disregarded because of his punitive physique. He has a healthy appetite in consuming a lot of scrumptious food throughout the entire picture, yet, we marvel at where all this food goes, considering his undernourished figure. Given that Daniel Day Lewis is a full-blown method-thespian, it would behoove one to believe that he devoured all that food throughout his actual performance, but, one imagines otherwise. The character of Woodcock gets no exercise except for his afternoon walks and, considering his middle-age, one would suppose that his metabolism would be low, and all that indulgence in food would result in him gaining weight; especially when his job is to use only his brain for sketching dresses, and his hands for making them.
Without providing spoilers, the awareness of differences in mushrooms is a major topic of the story. Alma is given instruction and tutelage as to which mushrooms are edible and poisonous. One wishes P.T. Anderson had magic mushrooms in the mix, as opposed to merely poisonous ones. It would have made for a more bizarre film and much enhanced character arc of self-realization in Reynolds Woodcock’s madness. Though, Woodcock succeeds in doing that, in a wacky ending, admitting to Alma and the audience that he’s finally aware he’s gone mad, and, from time to time, it would benefit him to be bedridden, for, perhaps, he’ll recuperate and live life with more dignity and grace. Still, we wish those were magic mushrooms being sautéed in extreme-close-ups; it would have made a more entertaining film.