Phantom Thread is one of those movies that makes over half its box office earnings from people doing their Oscars homework, myself included. Seeing this one was more of a requirement than anything else, just to end up saying I went 9/9 on Best Picture nominees. And of course, Phantom Thread ends up being great. Homework or not, I loved this bizarrely beautiful movie. It’s important to note how I went in blind as can be. I knew literally nothing about Phantom Thread, outside of Daniel Day-Lewis allegedly retiring after the production. And I strongly recommend seeing this film knowing as little as possible. That’s an odd way to lead off a review, as I’d certainly like you to stick around, but Phantom Thread’s delightful oddities most strongly impact the unsuspecting.
Be Patient With This One
So my Phantom Thread review in two words is watch it, but I’ll elaborate further for those who aren’t sold or have seen it already. There’s a good deal of patience required early on, because this movie has a deliberately slow start. And even after the story evolves into something more exciting and complicated, it’s definitely not for everyone. Phantom Thread dodges every available cliché in favor of whatever’s more likely to make audiences raise a collective eyebrow. I spent this film’s entire second half with the same beaming, bewildered, dumb smile on my face. I should’ve given Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest more favorable assumptions. But, to the story’s credit, Phantom Thread lulls viewers into a false sense of conventionalism. So don’t be fooled and hang in there, because Phantom Thread’s pacing is better than it seems.
This Award Season's Best Performance
The screenplay pleasantly surprises as time goes on, and the acting is obviously there from start to finish. Daniel Day-Lewis crawls out of his hole one last time in response to the scent of another Oscar nomination. Cynicism aside, he’s very powerful in a role that could’ve been more irritating than intriguing. Playing an inherently despicable person is no easy task but, as he so often does, Day-Lewis adds layers to a challenging character. Lesley Manville also earns a nomination for her dynamic performance in a supporting role. But, by some criminal level of negligence, the powers that be overlooked Vicky Krieps after she delivered what I currently feel is the best performance of the year, man or woman. Alma’s transformation as a lead character sets the pace, tone, and impossible-to-describe balance struck by this genuinely different movie. The other two are reliable constants with big personalities, but Phantom Thread only goes as far as Alma’s portrayal takes it. Thanks to Krieps, that result is immensely far. She’s more nuanced and unconventionally relatable than anyone you’ll see in these 2017-18 Oscar films.
Almost My Best Picture
So this is a pretty glowing review, and Phantom Thread is definitely among my Best Picture nominee favorites. My personal vote probably stays with Get Out, because that movie is equally unique while being infinitely more enjoyable. I can’t imagine watching Phantom Thread for that third, fourth and fifth time. I can’t imagine recommending it with absolute confidence to friends who don’t care about critically acclaimed movies, which is something you can absolutely do with Get Out. Everyone from your college buddy to your stuffy great-uncle likes Get Out. The stuffy great-uncle might’ve even been an extra at the garden party. This one doesn’t have that universal appeal. But Phantom Thread is wholeheartedly for anyone who claims they’re tired of formulaic storytelling, or that they like a little weird with their fiction.
Spoiler-Free Spoiler Talk
I can’t believe this is the case, but I was tempted to go through a spoilers section for this movie, as if Phantom Thread were a Star Wars installment. But all I really need to express is how this film earns its own narrative structure. The first act does drag, but the eventual twists and turns wouldn’t hit so hard if it didn’t. That slow start is a necessary evil. As I mentioned earlier, you have to feel that false sense of boring. So Phantom Thread’s negatives barely function as real, hindsight-supported criticisms. There’s a point at which the movie could’ve decisively and climactically ended, only for the story to continue for another 45 or so minutes. That felt like a bad decision for some time, with the story circling around an ending that would’ve been identical to the previous one. I kept asking myself why it didn’t just end at that point, because we’re just going in circles now. But sure enough, there was a method to the madness that increased the film’s value tenfold. What felt like an epilogue added layer after layer to these characters. And a script that knew exactly what it was doing thwarted my reviewer brain time and time again.
To reiterate, Phantom Thread will not be for everyone. It’s a slow movie that doesn’t do what people are accustomed to seeing. That’s reason enough for some to outright hate it. But if you’re open to a neurotic brand of escapism and no shortage of grey morality, Phantom Thread’s crazy might just match your crazy.