Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Phantom Thread (2017)

I can't say I've ever enjoyed a Paul Thomas Anderson film and Phantom Thread doesn't break the streak. There are moments in Magnolia I like, some I like quite a bit, but I still found the whole thing to be a bit of a mess. There is something about Daniel Day Lewis' voice, no matter what heavy accent he is affecting, that takes me out of his performances and makes me feel like I'm watching a ham actor. So there are my biases laid out before I discuss their critically acclaimed new drama, showered with awards and accolades, which I pretty much couldn't stand.

Remarkably, I truly appreciated what PTA was doing with his direction on this piece.  I loved the way he shot this film, so structured (perhaps like a good tailor?), to highlight precise emotions. The cinematography is gorgeous (again, like a beautiful gown) all soft light and warm glow. Phantom Thread is a beautiful thing to watch.  Especially when Vicky Krieps is on screen. Her presence is remarkable and her smile is lovely. She inhabits her role here so completely, so perfectly. As does Lesley Manville, often playing opposites of each other, but fitting together so perfectly. Once again I fail to see the charm of DDL but once again I am overruled by everyone else fawning over him.

None of that is what bugged me about Phantom Thread, a completely irrelevant title which nagged me throughout, the whole "thread" reference is wasted and lost on the main story. What truly bothered me was was the story. Billed as a portrait of the struggles of loving an artist, the film is really a romanticization of abuse. Phantom Thread is about a cruel man and the woman who suffers his abuse. When she finally rises to do something about her situation (a moment the film doesn't truly earn but just thrusts on us) I began to have some hope the piece was turning into a dark character study, only to turn her "revenge" turn into playful sparring which woos over the vile man she loves, winning his evil affection and saving the day. Huh? The messaging here is disgusting on so many levels. I was never convinced that there was any merit in her staying with him. The film never convinces me there is a romance to save, just a pattern of dysfunction which the film reads as supporting, not critiquing. 

There is this idea that his cruelty to her, and to others, is somehow a charming effect of his artistry. Bullshit. Then there is the idea that instead of deserving not to be treated cruelly, her role is to be cruel to him back, as if abuse dished out proportionately is sexy. Perhaps if the film had tapped into some sort of sadomasochistic vibe we could have seen some merit to where this relationship was going, but I never felt the film achieved that, instead making this abuse seem romantic, like an ill-fitting dress that looks so good you put up with the discomfort. Yucky. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

The film, which is long and slow paced, ends suddenly on this rather truncated moment of almost absurd humour which feels disjointed from the rest of the film. All of the sudden the film is over and the resolution is this supposedly charming moment of the two laughing together. It feels to be about how charmingly sweet the couples horrible treatment of each other is.

I hear Daniel Day Lewis is retiring. Can't say that makes me sad. What about Paul Thomas Anderson next?

Phantom Thread
Starring: Daniel Day Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Writer/Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

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