Five Ways Daniel Day-Lewis Is So Me in ‘Phantom Thread’
He’s kind of grouchy, insanely specific about what annoys him, and a total hypochondriac, which practically screams yours truly.
I’ve recognized myself in no movie character this Oscar season more than I see my own reflection in Phantom Thread’s designing man Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis).
Don’t get me wrong. I see myself in certain threads, not the entire fabric of the character. I don’t give a damn about dresses; I try to sidestep haughty; and I could never compete with Woodcock’s level of fussy. He’s Frasier Crane with a mean streak, which makes the surprise appearance of Harriet Sansom Harris, who played Frasier’s agent Bebe Glazer, as a gauche client such perfect casting.
But there’s more to Woodcock than dressmaking, haughtiness, and uber-fastidiousness. He’s kind of grouchy, insanely specific about what annoys him, and a total hypochondriac, which practically screams me. (My tendency toward extreme hypochondria is precisely why I wouldn’t touch his final subversive act with a 10-foot measuring tape.)
I enjoyed the movie a lot more than I expected to, though I think it’s been overrated by the Academy. Five nominations? Seriously? Does Paul Thomas Anderson really deserve a Best Picture and Best Director nod for this more than he did for The Master?
Daniel Day-Lewis is dependable as usual, but watching the movie, I got the sense that the actor was struggling — ultimately, unsuccessfully — to make Woodcock the standout character in his final film. (He announced his retirement from acting shortly after completing his work on the movie.) The great flaw in the performance is his failure to redeem Woodcock with even a hint of charm.
The three-time Best Actor Oscar winner is consistently matched and often upstaged by his female co-stars. Vicky Krieps, as Woodcock’s lover/muse-turned-wife Alma, nicely balances guileless and beguiling.
Meanwhile, the breathtaking Lesley Manville, as his sister Cyril, makes chilly reserve almost sensual. The latter, a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee and Phantom’s MVP, succeeds where Day-Lewis falters by making Cyril far more appealing than she should be. She even gets the film’s best sentences.
“Don’t pick a fight with me. You certainly won’t come out alive,” she warns Woodcock while calmly sipping her tea. “I’d go right through you, and it would be you who ends up on the floor. Understood?”
But in the end, the ladies are strangers to me. Unlike Woodcock. How does he recall me? Let me count the ways.
1. When it comes to meals, he’s particular and oh-so predictable.
He prefers his asparagus with oil and salt, not with butter, dammit. Got that? From city to city, country to country, continent to continent, I’ve carried my own ultra-specific food preferences with me, occasionally replacing them with new ones as I adjust my eating habits to fit the norms of my latest food culture.
It doesn’t take long for workers in any new eat-in or take-out establishment to figure out what my order will be before I make it. (Except in Sydney, where no-one ever seemed to catch on that no, I do not want coffee with that!) “I’ll have the… Oh, thank you.”
2. Alma’s loud eating exasperates him.
Uh-huh. Been there. So been there. Every time Woodcock cringes at Alma’s snap, crackle, and pop, I cringe, too. I know, right?, I think to myself. I despise unnecessary crunching and clanking and fiddling about. Unwarranted commotion is the worst.
I recently spent an entire train ride from one Eastern European capital to another rolling my eyes hard because the woman sitting across from me wouldn’t stop rifling through her bag. I had a repeat eye-roll performance for five and a half hours on a bus from Budapest to Belgrade because the guy sitting behind me kept doing the same thing — and jabbing the back of my seat in the process. Ugh. Woodcock would have been appalled!
I did, however, truly enjoy Alma’s obnoxiously loud pouring of the water during the final dinner scene and Woodcock’s clenched irritation. Who knew Daniel Day-Lewis could do comedy so well? That is supposed to be funny, right?
3. He just wants to be left alone on New Year’s Eve.
In recent years, New Year’s Eve has been second only to Christmas as my most-hated holiday. I haven’t really bothered to celebrate it at all this decade, and I’m pretty certain I’ve missed nothing.
How horrible did that party Woodcock followed Alma to look? He must have truly loved her to ultimately subject himself to such forced joviality among total strangers. Pass.
4. One illness equals game over.
“I’m scared, Alma. Do you think I’ll ever get better?”, he asks his future wife after suddenly and mysteriously falling ill. If you could read my mind, you definitely would have heard that before.
I think it pretty much every time I feel even the dullest ache or pain. It’s a good thing I haven’t actually been bedridden by illness since 2006, because if I were to fall that sick today, I’d probably start making funeral arrangements.
5. He loves the one he’s with, but he kind of hates her, too.
The symbiotic relationship between creative magician and his muse is the crux of Phantom Thread, and although I’ve never found myself in such an arrangement, I recognize Woodcock’s ambivalence toward Alma.
I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s ever felt that way. Woodcock’s relationship with Alma definitely falls into the love/hate column. He takes both farther to the extreme than I ever have, but I‘ve seen firsthand that it’s a thin line between love and hate.
That’s almost always been the case with me — even well before the inevitable break-up. Like Woodcock, I’ve had plenty of those. Let’s hope I don’t have to eat shit like he does (almost literally) to find a love/hate that finally works.