When I began my quest to watch and review all of the Oscar nominated movies before the awards ceremony back on the 17th of February I honestly did not anticipate sitting at my laptop the night before the ceremony typing furiously, with four reviews still unwritten and two movies yet to even be watched. What can I say; I got cocky. I didn’t factor in my immensely hectic TV series watching schedule. I didn’t anticipate getting addicted to The Handmaid’s Tale (A late bloomer, I know). And I forgot that the Six Nations was starting. (Go Ireland!) I reviewed a movie that was nominated for best adapted screenplay and nothing else and doesn’t even stand a chance to win that, (no regrets, Logan was a well spent 2hours and 17minutes). I would probably feel better if I, Tonya was nominated for more than three awards, not necessarily because it deserves it, but just because of the amount of time I put into the review. I probably should have used that time to watch another movie.
When I started this process, I had already decided I would NOT be watching Phantom Thread. They had me at Daniel Day Lewis. I have never been a fan of “method acting” even if that’s what it took for my beloved Leonardo Di Caprio to FINALLY win his Oscar in The Revenant, but Daniel Day Lewis takes it to a whole other level of creepy! When playing Christy Brown who suffered from cerebral palsy in 1989’s My Left Foot, he refused to leave his wheelchair for the duration of filming, had to be carried around set and insisted that his meals be spoon-fed to him. Three years later for The Last of the Mohicans he learnt how to track, hunt, and skin animals and would only eat food he had killed. When filming Gangs of New York he caught pneumonia because he refused to wear a warm coat because it wasn’t in keeping with the times. The only movie I enjoyed him in was The Boxer, which, being about Northern Ireland, I feel more obligated to love than anything. And for that role his obsession was to spend eighteen months learning to box, which as the movie is about boxing, seems reasonable. Obviously his technique works. He’s got the little gold statues to prove it. Although he seems to be losing his hair.
In Phantom Thread he plays Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned dressmaker in 1950s London, who designs exquisite, once-off gowns for royalty, movie stars, socialites, and heiresses. He works closely with his sister Cyril, who runs a tight ship at The House of Woodcock, handling the business side of things and even managing his personal life for him. Women come and go through his life, providing inspiration and companionship, but when their time is up, Cyril must do the dirty work. His life is his work, often all-consuming and overwhelming and so he often retreats to their country home to recuperate. It is on one of these trips that he encounters Alma, a waitress at a local café, who immediately captivates him. He is attracted to her physicality – she is the perfect canvass for him, and her initial doe-eyed infatuation creates a false perception of submissiveness. She seems perfect.
Reynolds has spent time and effort constructing his life just the way he wants it. After all, when someone is a genius and has been told as much their whole life they have grown accustomed to getting their own way. When Alma doesn’t slide as smoothly into the role he has written for her as he had hoped an interesting battle unfolds. For a while we almost fall into a romantic comedy of sorts, with the darkness of knowing that sometimes someone will just never love you the way you want them to.
And then comes the kicker that will ultimately determine whether you love or hate this film (or possibly get up and walk out). I have always said that you can never judge anyone else’s relationship because you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. What works for two people might not work for anyone else, but as long as it works for them, that’s all that matters. This film really puts that theory to the test. Because what if what works is a little bit twisted? What if the only way to make your relationship work is to be vulnerable, or to force your partner to be vulnerable? To put them completely at your mercy and then bring them back from the brink. It’s odd. Some might say psychotic. But if it works, then who are we to judge?
This movie surprised me in the most wonderful way possible. Yes, Daniel Day Lewis was annoying and creepy, but he also made me laugh out loud a few times. He was superb, I won’t attempt to take that away from him. Reynolds Woodcock was not a real person, so he drew on many famous characters from the world of fashion for inspiration. And in preparation for the role the most bizarre thing he did was re-create a Cristóbal Balenciaga sheath dress inspired by a school uniform. I can cope with that. Co-star Vicky Krieps, who plays Alma, admitted that she found it difficult on set because he always remains in character, but eventually she dealt with it by remaining in character herself and socialising with him between takes like that.
In a year of strong female performances, Vicky Krieps was another real treat. Alma was flippin kickass (Perhaps the psychotic streak aside, as a disclaimer). There are times when Reynolds acts as nothing short of an ungrateful, petulant toddler, trying to justify himself with his ‘brilliance’, but she’s having none of it. Reynold’s sister Cyril, played by the nominated Lesley Manville, also puts in an immaculate performance of a woman of steel. At one point it’s almost as if the two of them team up trying to stage-manage this drama queen that they both love but at the same time want to strangle.
The only thing this movie needs is a new trailer. The trailer makes it looks seem really dark and intense and melodramatic, which is what put me off. In reality, it’s nothing like that. It’s actually quite airy and there are some moments of perfect humour. And of all the movies I’ve seen in as long as I can remember, it’s the most honest depiction of a real relationship that I’ve seen onscreen. (Once again, perhaps psychotic streak aside, but each to their own). It’s about what happens after the butterflies calm down and you have to begin to navigate that territory of joining two lives into one. It’s about the compromise that goes into that. And what works for some, is psychotic to others.