‘Phantom Thread’ spins a rich showcase for Day-Lewis


Daniel Day-Lewis (left) and Lesley Manville are brother and sister running a fashion house in “Phantom Thread.” • Twentieth Century Fox via AP

“Phantom Thread,” three stars out of four.

With echoes of “Rebecca” and lavish Max Ophuls productions, writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson spins the tale of an obsessive fashion designer and his muse into a suspenseful and often funny parlor drama in “Phantom Thread.”

The great Daniel Day-Lewis, in what may be his final film performance, plays Reynolds Woodcock a soft-spoken dandy whose precise rules and polished look thinly veil his volatile artist’s temperament.

Reynolds’ nature is just one of the reasons why he’s sailed past middle age and has not only never married but also will proudly tell a woman on a first date that he is a “confirmed” and “incurable” bachelor.

Thus we’re not expecting anything very different when he takes a shine to Alma (Vicky Krieps), a waitress at a restaurant in the country whom he teases and flirts with by ordering an excessively large breakfast spread for just himself and grinning widely at his next prey. Alma, who seems shy and awkward in her lanky body, bumping into chairs and blushing at the sight of Reynolds, smiles and plays along and gladly accepts his dinner invitation, and, soon one to come back to London to model for him.

But this is not “Funny Face” or “My Fair Lady” or “Pretty Woman” or any number of “ugly” duckling turns to swan with the help of a hairbrush/expensive clothes/great man stories. It’s a story of relationships and power.

Alma, we come to discover, is not like the other girls even if she fits the mold. She has a bite and will push back on some things and concede on others. Ultimately, it seems, Alma is testing the waters in hopes of carving out her own unique relationship with Reynolds.

Why Alma loves this petulant genius is something the film doesn’t really make any effort to explain. This takes a somewhat surreal twist halfway through, but it’s intriguing enough to carry you to the end of the film.

Even in the unusually confined setting, Anderson gives moments and characters room to breathe in this silky smooth film that lulls you in before taking you on the unexpected ride of the third act. Giving one of the most beautifully subtle performances of the year, Krieps more than holds her own against Day-Lewis, and in some cases even goes so far as to outshine him. Manville, too, is superb as Cyril — a Mrs. Danvers-type, without the sinister angle.

Like all of Anderson’s efforts, “Phantom Thread” is beautiful and intriguing, but it’s also a film that is not unlike its central character: easy to respect and admire, and nearly impossible to fully love.

* “Phantom Thread,” a Focus Features release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language.” Running time: 130 minutes.