Tim Burnham’s review published on Letterboxd:
When it really comes down to it, what is love but to be understood and reckoned with? To have our little tyrannies seen, heard, and accepted but not indulged. To reach a place where we realize we are okay with changing our routines and being weak for someone else. Comfort and totality and again, acceptance. And an even-handedness.
This film is about a woman making room for herself in a new relationship with a domineering, sheltered, petulant artist. He has his good days and his bad, his wonderful qualities and his terrible. But mostly he sees her. But at first he won’t let her see him. And that creates an imbalance, especially when he pulls her into his world, his established routine with his rules and objects and family and people.
This film reminds me greatly of two others.
First, Gone Girl. Both are films about dominant, difficult people (to put it mildly) forcing room for themselves in their relationship and finding an honest place in which to acknowledge what they want and love in one another. Gone Girl is the toxic extreme but Phantom Thread still leans in that direction.
The second is mother! A film about an artist finding his new muse and using her up. The difference is that in mother! she never finds her own space and never gains ground. She is swallowed up. Here, Alma refuses to allow this possibility. But she is still in combat with a man seemingly more powerful than her, who uses her without much thought as to her well-being.
That makes for three films with six fucked up lead characters I uncomfortably find myself relating to. The varying power dynamics in all three are either so relatable, appealing, or understandable. As terrible and unhealthy as they may be or seem on the surface.
But I think something key being lost in this film and its depiction of this relationship in its metaphoric extreme is that it’s okay and possibly crucial to be a little toxic and cruel every now and then if that’s who you are but on the other side, you have to swallow some poison every now and then and know that you’re not the only power player in the room. Whatever you give will be returned.
This is a fascinating film and a great romance. Assholes and difficult people are searching for connection as desperately as everyone else. This is a story about two such people finding one another and figuring it out.