Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Review: Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread
Cert: 15 / 130 mins / Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson / Trailer

Well, this was the second Focus Features / Universal piece of the day, and the second to have a god-awful, pretentious perfume advert bolted on before the BBFC card. So there I was in Kensington on a Saturday afternoon watching a Paul Thomas Anderson film, surrounded by exactly the sort of patrons you'd expect to find in Kensington on a Saturday afternoon watching a Paul Thomas Anderson film. Can you tell where this review is going yet?

In fairness, I'd taken a gamble, as the trailer for Phantom Thread didn't exactly excite me and it took me less than ten minutes to figure out that the next two hours were going to feel more like three and a half. This is the tale of an eccentrically fastidious designer Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), running a high-end London fashion house with his spinster sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), when he happens across a naive young waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who becomes his new muse and obsession. But beauty is a cruel and restless mistress and happiness is the enemy of creativity, thus their relationship begins to create tensions in the house.

This is, as you might imagine, a meticulously assembled film, with every detail in every frame, every thread in every garment, every word and pause of every line all exactly where they're meant to be. Paul Thomas Anderson's glee in highlighting Woodcock's haughty attitude to order is the Ouroboros at the heart of Phantom Thread. It's just a shame I found almost everyone in it to be so irritating, so often.

Of course, your lead character doesn't have to be likeable to be compelling, but Reynolds Woodcock is purposefully infuriating. The well-heeled audience chuckled and guffawed along gamely throughout every awkward moment, their amusement overpowered in my head by a chorus of alarm-bells clanging at a protagonist who is essentially a sociopathic sex-pest in crimson knee-socks. We're not supposed to admire Woodcock, but I also think it's a push to laugh along dismissively at his worst excesses. You really need to make the decision beforehand as to whether you're prepared to spend two hours in his intimate company.

Outside of the characters, this is a fine-looking piece of work but it's furiously over-produced. It's additionally over-soundtracked to the point where it feels like a string quartet are sitting in the corner, determined to drown out the brittle exchanges of dialogue. At one point, a party scene features almost everyone in a function-hall singing a full round of Auld Lang Syne. The film score continues playing a completely different piece of music over this.

Day-Lewis and Manville are great, they're just great at playing irredeemably awful people. Thankfully, Krieps is able to bring more texture to Alma, although her character is no less challenging. But fair play to the latter, I never thought I'd see someone pour a glass of water so sarcastically.

It's not that I found nothing to enjoy in Paul Thomas Anderson's celebration of 'artistic temperament', but the amount of work I had to put into watching it felt over and above anything that I got back out. Phantom Thread is a film which has almost been committee-designed to annoy me. And in that regard, it's a resounding success.

Unfortunately, my viewing-schedule for the day didn't allow me to hang around for the post-credits scene. I'll just assume it was a teaser lead-in for Attack of the Clothes and/or Revenge Of The Stitch*1

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Let's be honest, 'all the sort of films I don't usually watch'.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
If it's your sort of thing, I imagine it probably is.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Well, if it's your sort of thing you'll have already pre-ordered the 4K version to sit and stroke your chin along to, I imagine.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Wrong person to ask, I'm afraid.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's entirely possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Leslie Manville is in this, and she starred in 2009's A Christmas Carol alongside Fionnula 'Catarine Towani' Flanagan.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Oh mate, I'm not even sorry for that one… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

No comments:

Post a Comment