Phantom Thread (2017) starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Kreips, & Leslie Manville

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the film.

Set in the glamour of 1950s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants, and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), 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. -Synopsis from Focus Features

Arguably the strongest part of the film, the score possesses Paul Thomas Anderson’s signature strange aura that is found in several of his other films. While most movies nowadays would use music to heighten drama, he rejects the common norm; valuing music to form an atmosphere.

The acting is very strong, as the film’s performances can feel slightly subdued and low-key before creeping up on the viewer to create a sharp but simple impact. The movie’s script is a delight, managing to pull of a genuine hat-trick by feeling both simple and complex at the same time. 

Ms. Krieps goes toe-to-toe with Daniel Day-Lewis in their scenes. Her blushy cheeks and determined eye of observation bely an inner strength that isn’t necessarily obvious at first glance. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Director Paul Thomas (P.T.) Anderson got the initial idea for this film while he was sick in bed one day. His wife, actress Maya Rudolph, was tending to him and gave him a look that made him realize that she had NOT looked at him with such tenderness and love in a long time. P.T. Anderson wrote the script in collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis (DDL). The actor suggested the name of his character be Reynolds Woodcock as a joke, BUT Anderson found that hilarious and kept it. To prep for his role, DDL (renown as a method actor) watched footage of ’40s and ’50s fashion shows, studied famous designers, consulted with the curator of fashion and textiles (Victoria and Albert Museum), and apprenticed under Marc Happel (head of the costume department at the NYC Ballet). DDL also learned how to sew. He said that this would be his final film. 

When I was a boy, I started to hide things in the lining of the garments. Things only I knew were there. Secrets. -Reynolds explains to Alma on their first date

Fastidious fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock (DDL) meets waitress Alma (Vicky Kreips- an actress who comes from Luxembourg) when he stops for breakfast at a little restaurant on the way to his country house. He orders a huge breakfast; it’s obvious that they’re interested in each other. After dinner at a fancy restaurant, Reynolds takes Alma to his house where he puts her on a pedestal (literally) and begins to measure her for a dress. She is surprised, yet intrigued. 

I cannot start my day with a confrontation. I simply have no time for confrontations. -Reynolds explains to Alma over breakfast 

The tea is going out. The interruption is staying right here with me. -Reynolds complains to Alma when she comes to his workroom to serve him tea.

In no time, Alma is living in Reynolds’ London house; she has her own room (next door to his). It turns out that Reynolds and his business partner/sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville- a British character actress), are a package deal. It’s NOT an ideal situation for Alma, though she gets used to this unique life. The domestic space is also a business, so there are people around most of the time (servants, seamstresses, etc.) Alma is fitted for fine dresses, serves as a model, and meets famous clients of the House of Woodcock. However, she grows dissatisfied w/ her (undefined) role in Reynolds’ life. He puts his work first and doesn’t apologize for it; she wants him to be nicer (instead of critical and demanding). Alma wants to get married; Reynolds thinks of himself as “a confirmed bachelor.” Eventually, he realizes Alma is different than his past girlfriends; he loves her and needs her around. 

Some have embraced this film warmly; after all, it deals w/ compromise in romantic relationships, the everyday trials of domestic life, and challenges of being involved w/ an artist. This film has problematic elements (esp. for modern/feminist viewers), though it’s well-made and finely acted. As some critics pointed out, Alma (who is in her 30s) doesn’t really have much power in the relationship; Reynolds (older/wealthier/influential) could throw her out on the street at any time. We don’t learn where Alma comes from (she has a vague/European accent), if she has any family, or what her life was like (before she met Reynolds). 

Does Alma take back some of the power in their relationship? Well, she decides to use the poison mushrooms to slow Reynolds down. He becomes sick temporarily, yet also emotionally vulnerable. She admits that she likes this side of him. The second time, Reynolds consents to being poisoned, eating the omelet she serves w/ great relish. Hmmm… NOT exactly the kind of ending you’d expect from the typical period drama/romance! 

 

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Lady Bird (2017) starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Timothee Chalamet, & Lucas Hedges

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the film.

In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento, California. IMDB synopsis

This (must-see) film was written and directed by indie actress Greta Gerwig (who is in her early 30s) and the long-time girlfriend/collaborater of writer/director Noah Baumbach. In interviews, Gerwig has referred to her protagonist, Christine (Lady Bird) McPherson, as a much more rebellious teenager than herself. Like Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan- 24 y.o. yet able to create a VERY convincing 17 y.o.) Gerwig was raised in Sacramento and attended Catholic school. This film is tightly-edited, thoughtful, complicated, yet VERY easy to relate to on many levels. The mother-daughter relationship is what’s being stressed in trailers and reviews; it’s also about friendships, dating, identity, and learning to appreciate what you already have in life.

Lady Bird (“the name I gave myself”) says she comes from “the wrong side of the tracks,” but lives in a warm, colorful, modest house w/ two loving parents, psychiatric nurse Marion (Laurie Metcalf- famous for her role as Jackie on Roseanne) and recently laid-off computer programmer, Larry (actor/playwright Tracy Letts- also seen in The Post). Her older brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues- an Australian of Malaysian heritage), and his girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) live at home also; they’re recent college grads working at a local grocery store. There is a thread if economic uncertainty and unemployment/underemployment in this film. Marion works double shifts at her hospital to make ends meet.

To enhance her college applications, Lady Bird decides to go try out for the school play, along w/ her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein- younger sister of actor Jonah Hill). Unlike the waif-like Lady Bird, Julie is a bigger girl who is somewhat insecure, yet VERY supportive/warm. Julie gets the lead in the play; Lady Bird gets a role, BUT is more excited about one of the boys who in the theater program, Danny (Lucas Hedges from Manchester by the Sea). Danny is sweet and respectful; he and Lady Bird spend a LOT time together, meet each others’ families, and say “I love you” to each other. It’s a BIT of a shock (yet NOT improbable) when their relationship comes to an end.

Though Lady Bird is disappointed and hurt, she finds interest in another boy at school, Kyle (Timothee Chalamet from Call Me By Your Name), who plays in a band and enjoys reading. Unlike Danny, Kyle is mysterious and perhaps a too selfish/full of himself. Lady Bird grows distant from Julie (too bad) and becomes friends w/ a popular/pretty girl, Jenna (Odeya Rush), who dates one of Kyle’s friends. Lady Bird puts on a different image/attitude in front of her rich clique of friends.

Marion worries re: her daughter’s future; Lady Bird’s grades aren’t that great, though she dreams of going to a East Coast college (or anywhere to escape Sacramento). Also, her attitude is changing (NOT for the better), as she stands on the edge of adulthood. BOTH women are tough, strong-willed, yet love each other VERY much (though they can’t always express it well). Lady Bird’s soft-spoken dad is willing to listen to her concerns, BUT he’s also going through his own struggles, too.

 

Familiar by Danai Gurira (Wooly Mammoth Theatre)

Familiar is written by Tony-nominated playwright Danai Gurira (who was born in the US, but raised many years in Zimbabwe). She can be seen in the newest Marvel movie- Black Panther.  (Listen to a recent NPR interview w/ Gurira here: https://www.npr.org/2018/02/17/586172340/danai-gurira-on-her-black-panther-role-she-protects-what-we-would-have-been). Familiar is Wooly’s entry into the Women’s Voices Theater Festival. The play is directed by Theater J artistic director, Adam Immerwahr (one of Gurira’s long-time collaborators).

Donald (Kim Sullivan), a low-key lawyer and partner in his firm, and his high-strung scientist wife, Marvelous (Inga Ballard), are getting ready for the wedding of their older daughter, Tendi (Sharina Martin). Their younger daughter, Nyasha (Shannon Dorsey- I’ve seen her in All the Way and Octoroon), has recently returned from Zimbabwe, and is full of excitement and stories. Unlike religious/straight-laced lawyer Tendi, the much younger Nyasha is a free-spirited musician still finding herself. (Nyasha reminded me of Beneatha Younger, the idealistic/Afrocentric college girl from A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry.) 

Two sisters of Marvelous have come over for the wedding: Margaret (Twinkle Burke)- an adjunct professor who loves wine and Anne (Cheryl Lynn Bruce)- a traditional woman (who stayed behind in the old country). Tendi invited Anne to help w/ the roora (bride price) ceremony, despite the fact that she and her mother don’t get along. Marvelous is shocked, as she does NOT approve of roora. However, Tendi and her white fiance/nonprofit worker, Chris (Drew Kopas), want to honor the elders in this way. It turns out that Chris needs a go-between for the ceremony, so he brings in his younger brother/former soldier, Brad (Andy Truschinski). Misunderstandings, sibling rivalries, hurt feelings, secrets, and a LOT of hilarity ensues! 

I was lucky enough to get tickets (online) to see this play on a pay-what-you-can performance. I don’t think I’ve laughed this hard in the theater before! It’s NOT just about jokes, there are some VERY touching moments (some of which grow out of a long-hidden family secret). I highly recommend it to anyone in the DC area; it’s playing until SUN, MAR 11th (https://www.woollymammoth.net/event/familiar).