Review: Phantom Thread

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: In 1950s London, a demanding dressmaker finds his world irrevocably altered when he falls for a timid young waitress.

REVIEW: PHANTOM THREAD might be the most unusual romantic comedy ever made. There have been more bizarre topics tackled within the genre, and it has been populated by far more eccentric characters, of course, but Paul Thomas Anderson's lush and bewitching film surely takes the cake when it comes to how it reveals itself to be a sly and often playful entry into the category. It's not a knee-slapper, you won't find yourself doubled-over with fits of laughter, but it's almost certainly funnier than one would initially assume, with a steady streak of amusingly caustic moments between its main protagonists, as they engage in a battle of wills for superiority – or, at least, equal footing – in their relationship.

This is easily Anderson's most subtle and serene film, even if at the center of it is a man made of considerable tension. Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a successful dressmaker in 1950s London, whose dresses grace the forms of socialites, celebrities and even princesses. He strives for perfection not only in his work, but in every aspect of his life; seemingly every minute of his day has been planned meticulously. He is aided by his equally fastidious sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville), who robotically hovers around him making sure all of his needs are met. This extends to his "romantic" life, which appears to be just as humorless as the rest of Reynolds' world; early on we see a fed-up girlfriend (if she can be called that) chastise him for ignoring her so coldly, too consumed is he with a sketchbook. (She's promptly dismissed, as if she were an employee, by Cyril.) Reynolds isn't an unhappy man, necessarily, but he's built up a routine that is so inflexible he can't bear to have a single intrusion interfere with it.

Phantom Thread review Daniel Day Lewis Paul Thomas Anderson

Enter Alma (Vicky Krieps), a gentle, demure waitress Reynolds immediately finds himself taken with. They begin seeing each other, and while he proves he can be a charming and generous man, his rigidity when it comes to his work and lifestyle remains, and a separation seems inevitable. But Alma isn't about to let that happen. She is in love with Reynolds, and knows he is with her, and she begins to ensure she will not be cast aside as so many others before her.

To go on would be to spoil some things that definitely should not be, although this isn't a movie with mind-blowing twists and turns. What keeps us glued to the screen is the way Reynolds and Alma very quietly push each other to the breaking point time and time again, only to return to each other’s embrace. (Some methods of these particular mind games are more effective than others.) Cyril's presence further complicates matters; she's practically a second version of Reynolds, always there with a reprimand or icy retort. So much is said and yet so little is said; a stern glance or sarcastic smile will definitely do just fine with these three introverts. So it goes that the drama and comedy of PHANTOM THREAD are brought to life thanks to the actors' mastery of revealing just enough without revealing all. Even while we watch these shrewd characters go after each other, we're never quite certain if we know what they really desire.

Phantom Thread review Daniel Day Lewis Paul Thomas Anderson

It should be no surprise that Day-Lewis is excellent as Reynolds. Whereas in Anderson's THERE WILL BE BLOOD the actor's face was constantly fixed in an intense glower, in PHANTOM THREAD it's often a wry smile, although no less intense. Anderson's camera loves him, and clearly the actor is up to any challenge the director throws his way; if indeed this is Day-Lewis' final performance, it's a beautiful way to go out. Krieps, an unknown to me, is necessarily able to match her on-screen lover's charismatic presence every step of the way; no easy feat. The two engage in a couple of very memorable "staring contests," with the one in the third act being rather edge-of-your-seat worthy. This is absolutely a break-out turn, she's marvelous. And Manville is extremely effective in a role that doesn't allow for any overt dramatics – not that Cyril needs any. The character has some of the most withering take-downs of the group, and you can see Manville biting (not chewing) into each word with relish.

There is absolutely patience required for PHANTOM THREAD, and I'll admit its very stately pace eventually threatens to become flat-out slow. If the plot didn't have a third act wrinkle, I'd have been satisfied but not exactly enthralled with the overall experience. But Anderson does indeed make things quite intriguing as he moves toward the finish, giving PHANTOM THREAD a peculiar atmosphere that secures its position as a most unusual romantic comedy. A director capable of delivering surprises when he wants to, PHANTOM THREAD is surely Anderson's most unexpected movie to date.


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Eric Walkuski is a longtime writer, critic, and reporter for He's been a contributor for over 15 years, having written dozens of reviews and hundreds of news articles for the site. In addition, he's conducted almost 100 interviews as JoBlo's New York correspondent.