There’s more than one intricate stitch sewn into the fabric of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar-nominated “Phantom Thread” (Focus). As the final film of retiring actor Daniel Day-Lewis, it’s not only a high point for the performer who already has three Oscars to his name, but also for the filmmaker and supporting cast members.
Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) is a sought-after couturier in 1950s London with A-list clients running the gamut from stunning Belgian and British royalty to dowdy, drunk, wealthy Americans. A most demanding man, not only of himself, but also of his devoted business associate sister Cyril (Oscar-nominee Lesley Manville), whom he refers to as “my old sew and sew”, his staff of seamstresses, and whomever is the current object of his affection.
Woodcock is straight (Day-Lewis did play gay in the brilliant “My Beautiful Launderette”), despite his magenta socks and grooming regimen. Following an especially awkward breakfast scene between Reynolds and his live-in lover Johanna (Camilla Rutherford), Cyril wastes no time in dispensing with her, as it is agreed that she is impeding the dressmaker’s creative process.
During a weekend trip to his country home, Woodcock encounters clumsy, but efficient waitress Alma (Vicky Krieps, as sort of Luxembourgian Meryl Streep) and is immediately smitten. So much so that he asks her to dinner. Dinner leads to a fitting in his workshop and, before you know it, Alma is moved in to the bedroom next to Reynolds’ in his London house. Even Cyril, who notes that while Alma doesn’t have much in the way of breasts and has a bit of a “belly”, she is the perfect muse for this point in Reynolds’ creative and personal life.
Alma soon discovers that not only must she compete with Cyril for Reynolds’ attention, but also his needy high-end clients, and the ghost of his dead mother. The relationship remains on a steady course for a while and Reynolds becomes more affectionate and giving of himself to Alms. However, his mood shifts, bordering on being on the bipolar spectrum, threaten to destroy everything.
It wouldn’t be a Paul Thomas Anderson movie without some kind of fascinating twist, and “Phantom Thread” unspools its surprising turn of events in a way that is either terrifying or hilarious, depending on your point of view. As they did in Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” remake, mushrooms play a prominent role in “Phantom Thread”, as perhaps the most bizarre aphrodisiac ever swallowed.
Almost everything about “Phantom Thread” is visually striking. From the Bristol sedan Reynolds drives to his home and workspace to the social events attended by Reynolds and Alma. It goes without saying that the range of fashions, including both the daily wear and the exquisite haute couture creations, is nothing short of breathtaking. There is, no doubt, a potential Oscar-win in costume designer Mark Bridges’ future. Rating: A-