If you have not watched Phantom Thread, and by and large tend to enjoy the movies I also enjoy, and by that I probably mostly mean “having Experiences at the cinema”, imagine that I am taking you by the shoulders right now and telling you that you shouldn’t read this review, don’t read any reviews, just go watch it, you have my word that it’s good, and then come back here so we can talk about what the FUCK this movie turns out to be.
You know, I worry that even saying that it becomes Fucking Something is a spoiler, so pristinely unprepared was I for the dawning realization breaking across me in the theater. But I also suspect that this is what happened/s for most Paul Thomas Anderson fans with his movies, that that’s why they love him, and this is just the first time it all dropped in for me. Though another impression I get is that it’s perhaps unusual for Phantom Thread to be the one that got through to me, given that this is a beautiful weird restrained movie about being beautiful, weird and restrained. But I like that, I try to explain to the PTA stans holding forward copies of the phantasmically overflowing The Master, the thought you can feel in something that is very specific. Style is in what you leave out.
And in this case, style also is what is STUNNINGLY OUTRÉ.
Now Paul Thomas Anderson was already endearing himself to me with this one, writing, directing, and shooting the thing himself, with a cast that is something like 81% women and then Daniel Day Lewis dressed in tall violet socks. It’s a movie that was only rated R for language, and yet every time someone says “fuck” it feels like they just dropped a plate on the floor while maintaining direct eye contact. He mined so much drama out of toast. It was incredible.
And that was all before he pulled the (beautiful) cloth off the central love & power crux to reveal an enthusiastically mutual poisoning kink, a joyously strange final play that took Phantom Thread from being easily my favorite Anderson film to one of my favorites of the year. I think my nearest reference point is that it almost felt like something from the last act of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, Jonny Greenwood’s wildly great score booming between my ears like Michael Nyman’s ‘Memorial’ as I silently yelled my heart out in the theater. Simultaneously upending and a revelation, clarifying the characters’ fixations on control and vulnerability, attention and carefulness, FOOD. I know this is the mood of the moment but honestly: shook.
Looking at them now, so many of the best movies of 2017 throw everything they have into their final scene, stoking them bright enough to set the whole movie that came before like pottery glaze, and I am all about this trend. Good show.