Parse the timeless “Phantom Thread” over a classic cocktail in Casa del Mar’s Terrazza Lounge
By Angela Matano
Pleasure layering — combining two great things for an amplifying effect — is tailor-made for cinephiles and gastronomes. While enjoyable on its own, the act of seeing a good or even just interesting movie is immeasurably enhanced by the chance to chat about it after, allowing the themes and subtext to breathe and grow, like one of those miniature children’s toys that expand when you submerge them in water overnight.
The best post-cinema dining experiences occur when the picture resonates in some way with the present moment. This is especially difficult to achieve when you consider how long it takes to make a feature — 2015 practically feels like a universe apart.
Luckily, by happenstance or design, a lot of this year’s cinematic offerings confront gender issues — whether head-on or obliquely. “Mother!,” “Their Finest,” “Battle of the Sexes,” “Ladybird,” “Beguiled” and “Wonder Woman” all provide chewy fodder in these historic days of sexual misconduct freefall.
The latest entry into this year’s canon of female revolt is the new P.T. Anderson film “Phantom Thread.” Set amidst the high fashion world of 1950s London, the story follows haute couture designer Reynolds Woodcock, played deliciously by Daniel Day-Lewis, as he struggles with his own obsessive nature. Deeply desirous of solitude, Woodcock conversely acknowledges the necessity of life and forward momentum in his process of creativity, pronouncing that “a house that doesn’t change is a dead house.”
Circling the black hole of such egotism, echoing Javier Bardem’s character in Darren Aronofsky’s brilliant and largely misunderstood “Mother!,” is a dangerous place for a lady. And yet relative unknown Vicky Krieps, as Alma, first stumbles and later rams herself into Reynolds’ good graces — Alma’s early reticence belying an inner reserve of steel.
Austere and elegant, “Phantom Thread” thrums with repressed energy. Reminiscent of Merchant Ivory’s “Remains of the Day,” Anderson’s tale of buttoned up desire plays out below the surface of the actors’ faces. Flickers of recognition, micro eyebrow jumps and miniscule lip twitches telescope the inner car chases driving the characters. A movie to savor and even see again, “Phantom Thread” haunted me long after the closing credits.
There couldn’t be a better place to mull over this thought-provoking, meaty film than Casa del Mar’s Terrazza Lounge. As graceful and well-designed as the atelier in the film, stepping into the lobby of the hotel approximates the world so meticulously created by Anderson. Built in the 1920 as a private beach club, the lobby radiates glamour and might even inspire you to break out of your athleisure rut and don some evening garb. Do!
Gussied up, you may find yourself feeling a little more civilized than usual, your manners retrieved from a recessed corner of your frontal cortex. If there’s anything “Phantom Thread” beseeches us to do, it’s to embrace our inner anal-retentive. Tight collars, lace-up shoes, chignon hair and fitted bodices act like armor in the film, battening down feelings and straightening spines.
Order a Singapore Sling or a Pink Squirrel — drinks that peaked in the middle of the last century — while cozying up at a table overlooking the sea at Terrazza. A charcuterie plate or English pea soup makes for refined dining. A pot of tea and a banana crème tart wouldn’t be a bad choice either. Live music plays seven nights a week and, if you’re lucky, you’ll hit on an evening of piano or jazz, music to facilitate your time-traveling experience.
A couple of drinks in you just might find yourself arguing about the gender gap, or just what exactly constitutes sexual harassment. Don’t fret! The discussion is what actually matters, not the parsing of semantics. Living in a time of redefining roles and boundaries makes for interesting art and interesting conversation.
Consciously or not, Anderson found a timely way to tackle the timeless tug-of-war between being in a relationship and following your own path to self-actualization. Of course, as a woman, I would love to see the roles switched: the female of the couple playing the genius and the male struggling with self-definition, the story driven by a feminine narrative. That would truly be a sign of changing times.
“Phantom Thread” opens Dec. 25 at The Landmark, 10850 West Pico Blvd., West L.A.
Terrazza Lounge at Hotel Casa del Mar, 1910 Ocean Way, Santa Monica. (310) 581-5533; hotelcasadelmar.com