When it comes to PT Anderson movies, I can’t help myself. As soon as a trailer is posted, I watch it. But the marketing for his movies in recent years has misled audiences, so that it takes more than one viewing to appreciate the movie for what it actually is.

The three movies he’s released in the past decade – since his 2007 masterpiece There Will Be Blood – have all suffered from this problem. The trailer for The Master, with its pounding score and quick cuts, made it look like a tense action movie. Instead, we got a much slower film, a dual character study with nuanced performances from two of the greatest actors of their generation, Joaquin Phoenix and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The trailer for Inherent Vice looked like maybe the movie version of a slick Elmore Leonard novel directed by the Coen Brothers. But it was nowhere near as accessible as the trailer made it seem, because it was actually based on a novel by Thomas Pynchon, whose writing is notoriously dense.

4 stars

Phantom Thread continues this tradition, with a trailer that makes the movie look like a stuffy, serious, Merchant Ivory melodrama. I was probably more than halfway through the movie before I realized it’s actually a dark romantic comedy and something of a satire of the type of movie you might expect.

Daniel Day-Lewis, who may be the greatest actor of his generation, plays Reynolds Woodcock, a womanizing clothing designer in 1950s London. He lives in pristine quarters that also house his fashion house, which outfits the upper echelon of society women and even royalty. His sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) manages the business, lives with him, and helps coordinate the arrivals and departures of the various women in his life.

One day he is in a small café when he notices the waitress, Alma, played by Vicky Krieps. He orders breakfast in a way that is both funny and irresistible to her. He invites her to his place where he measures her and makes a dress for her. There is a period of cat-and-mouse interaction where it’s not clear if his interest in her is entirely artistic, but that’s before the romance inevitably begins and things get complicated.

Reynolds is an artist and a difficult man of exacting standards. He becomes increasingly more particular about things in various situations until his proclivities reach a level of absurdity that you just have to laugh at, and by then you realize you’re having fun watching a movie you expected to be dry and stuffy.

Alma is different from the other girls. She challenges him, in her own way, quietly refusing to back down when expected and casually disagreeing with him in ways that are sure to further incense him. By the time she decides on a course of action to gain more control over their relationship, you realize this isn’t just a comedy, but a dark comedy.

The exchange between Reynolds and Alma in the final scene is a commentary on the needy, twisted, egotistical core at the heart of every artist.

I had two thoughts when I finished watching this movie. I really hope this isn’t Daniel Day-Lewis’s last role. And, I really have to stop watching trailers for PT Anderson movies.

Title Phantom Thread
Director Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer Paul Thomas Anderson
Runtime 130 min
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Production Focus Features, Annapurna Pictures, Perfect World Pictures,
Ghoulardi Film Company