Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 2017. Annapurna Pictures, Focus Features, Ghoulardi Film Company, Perfect World Pictures. Screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson. Cinematography by Paul Thomas Anderson. Produced by Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison, Daniel Lupi, JoAnne Sellar. Music by Jonny Greenwood. Production Design by Mark Tildesley. Costume Design by Mark Bridges. Film Editing by Dylan Tichenor. Academy Awards 2017. Golden Globe Awards 2017. New York Film Critics 2017. Washington Film Critics Awards 2017.
A high-end couturier (Daniel Day-Lewis) runs his London fashion house with a crack sewing team and his hard-edged sister (Lesley Manville) as business manager, their indulgence of his rigid habits and routines freeing him to obsess over the creations that take people’s breath away at aristocratic functions. He seems to have a habit of keeping a female companion who doubles as primary model, and not long after getting rid of his last conquest (Camilla Rutherford in one short, powerful scene) he meets a beautiful waitress (Vicky Krieps) with whom he becomes immediately enchanted and, eventually, involved in a fascinating battle of wills. She happily obliges him in becoming his leading lady and a member of the household, but as time progresses, her presence as someone with a personality as strong has his own confuses the man who usually has no problem evicting a person who makes to much noise buttering her toast: is it a struggle he wants to solve, or does he, like her, actually enjoy being trapped without a solution? It’s amazing how many mushrooms it takes to answer this question. Throughout the process of this exquisite, perfectly mapped out film, we see these two characters combat each other in seemingly innocuous ways (asparagus with butter?) that are as devastating as they are surprisingly funny. It’s a masterful look at love and design that expertly makes its aestheticism a character of its own (it’s the finest costume work of Mark Bridges’ career) without ever losing touch with the explosive human drama at its centre (imagine if Max Ophuls finally had a bad day). Day-Lewis is wondrous as a man who expresses his ferocious appetite for indulgence while hardly ever raising his voice above a hush, while Krieps does Falconetti-worthy acting in frequent close-ups and, despite not being very familiar with the film’s English-speaking audience, effortlessly holds her own with one of the most famous scene-chewers in recent film history. The film would be incomplete, though, without the dangerous sparkle that Manville contributes in support, impressive and practical but never cruel, her intentions always a surprise and her delivery always a blow; with a stare that could cut glass and a voice that falls like a guillotine, she anchors the romance in her practical business suits and tight hairdos and leaves a remarkable impression. None of the characters are to be taken for granted, for that matter, the employees who do the sewing all come across as rich individuals, an elegant (as always) Gina McKee contributes to the film’s tangible beauty, and, best of all, Harriet Sansom Harris is unforgettable as an extreme cross between Doris Duke and Princess Margaret whose instability provides a sharp but not condescending examination of the film’s social world.