Phantom Thread, B
Rated R, 130 minutes
Beware the mushrooms. That may seem an odd statement about a well-acted romantic drama set against 1950's London couture society, but it wouldn't be odd considering the director is Paul Thomas Anderson, acclaimed director of such unconventional films as "The Master" and "Boogie Nights." With a narrative that's as occasionally as odd and uneven as culottes or socks with sandals, it's held together by strong performances and stellar production elements.
Amid the glamour of London in the 1950s, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (the impeccable Lesley Manville) dress members of the royal family, film stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants and dames with his distinctive style. Women come and go through Woodcock's life, providing the confirmed bachelor with companionship, until he comes across Alma (Vicky Krieps), a strong-willed young woman who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love.
The slow-moving, character-driven drama "Phantom Thread" is directed and written by Anderson and can be as frustrating as bell-bottoms, but there are a handful of things worth noting. First, are the strong performances from the leads. Day-Lewis, in what is supposedly his final role before retiring from acting, is focused as the fashion designer who's often committed more to his dresses than true love. Though he's good, it's one of his weaker role and certainly not as dynamic as his Oscar-winning turn in Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" (2007), but is fun to watch him annoyed at noises the breakfast table.
As Reynolds' younger, more energetic lover, German actress Krieps has a few good scenes as the lady who straddles immaturity and frustration. Even better, in "Thread's" most memorable turn, is "Maleficient's" Manville as Reynolds' sharp, strong-willed sister; with a quick look or change in tone in voice, Manville perfectly and subtly conveys who truly keeps Reynolds' life and business in check. She'd be a dark horse for a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination (she already has a BAFTA nod), but it would definitely be worthy.
Perhaps the real star of the show is the stellar, textured score from Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, who's worked with Anderson before, as well as those sublime and lovely costumes from Oscar-winner Mark Bridges, who's another sure-fire nominee. Between the two, it keeps the narrative flowing, especially when it turns suitably strange in the last act (those mushrooms also play an important role here) or its generally slower pacing.
Anderson and Day-Lewis have done better work before, and "Phantom Thread" really belongs to Manville and those lovely dresses. It's divisive, but worth a look for fans of the director and lead actor.