PHANTOM THREAD – Before Weinstein Got Outed

This story is about an iconic fashion designer who abuses those around him. Despite such abhorrent behavior, he finds happiness. This sends a message that, if you’re spectacularly successful and talented, you can get away with anything. In this Weinstein Outed era, I’m not sure that’s something the audience will want to hear.

PHANTOM THREAD - Before Weinstein Got Outed 1It’s 1950 and the House of Woodcock is a prestigious haute couture establishment in post-war Britain. The unreasonable demands of the designer, Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), are pandered to by everyone, especially his devoted sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville). She is the stabilizing influence that counters her brother’s eccentricities and she treats both her sibling and his elite clientele with unequivocal deference. She also plays a major part in Reynold’s private life, and assumes responsibility when the confirmed bachelor tires of his latest amour and leaves it to her to make way for the next. The latest replacement to come along is a young waitress, Alma (Vicky Krieps). She is captivated by the fabulous tailor and willingly moves into his home so she can become part of his burgeoning empire.

It’s difficult to like any of the characters in this meandering tale. Reynolds is a cliché with his extreme fastidiousness and bullying ways. His appeal lessens by the minute as he snaps and growls his way through his privileged life.

Alma is pleasant enough but her willingness to accept Reynold’s ill-treatment prevents her from being anything remotely resembling a heroine. When she finally decides to act, it’s anonymous; she’s not prepared to risk anything.

But jeopardy is what creates tension and with this component absent, the landscape is flat from beginning to end. Cyril is the most relatable of the three, and had Alma been made of sturdier stuff, the ensuing cat fights could have exploded the household. Such tension between Reynold’s two women would also have given him something more to worry about than Alma’s indelicate table manners.

Very little actually happens in this film, and when it does, it raises more questions than it answers. For example, when Alma is told to change her meal times so she doesn’t eat with Reynolds any more, it’s never made clear whether or not she complies.

Apart from being unsatisfying, it’s also a missed opportunity to let the audience know how Alma feels about being living in such an oppressive household. Her life views remain as much a mystery as her past, and begs the question whether anyone in this film matters apart from the omnipotent genius.

But the biggest mystery of all is why this offering is being hailed by the film industry as a worthy finale to Daniel Day Lewis’ illustrious career. Maybe it’s because they’re trying to steer the conversation away from the misogynistic storyline and make it about Lewis. His absence from the harassment claims has made him one of the good guys, which is a very low bar.

United States Jan 19, 2018

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Netherlands Mar 1, 2018

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Hong Kong Mar 29, 2018

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