Is there a worse line in the history of cinema than “Kiss me before I’m sick”? Probably plenty of contenders but I think this probably edges it, especially when you actually hear the line in context in this forgettable movie.
Such a shame that the much heralded final film of Daniel Day Lewis should be a shallow, vacuous movie about people I don’t care about by writer/director, Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson has form on this front in the shape of Boogie Nights but it seems a shame for this great actor to bow out in such a way. If you’re going to retire relatively early from acting then you feel it should be with a truly momentous movie and performance. This isn’t it.
It’s an odd role for a final film in that it doesn’t really say much, doesn’t require a virtuoso performance. He just fades away from the screen with a rather subdued effort in a film that is nice to look at but never as engaging as it seems to think it should be. That’s not to say that it’s a disaster of a film or even particularly bad in any of the usual key areas. The acting is totally fine with Vicky Krieps, a Luxembourger making her first English language appearance, sparkling on the screen and Lesley Manville providing good support. The film looks sumptuous and is rich in period detail. But it’s ultimately Anderson’s script where it all falls down – increasingly so towards the end.
Day Lewis plays Reynolds (christian name – it’s that kind of movie) who is a dressmaker to the upper echelons of high society, the aristocracy and the royal houses of Europe. He coldly drops his romantic interest in the opening scenes of the movie and heads to the country where he bumps into a waitress by the name of Alma and the two instantly spark off with each other in a way which is ludicrously unbelievable. Nevertheless, Reynolds takes her on as his new top model and live-in love interest in the enormous townhouse he occupies with his cold fish sister, Cyril.
Essentially, the movie is then a story of control of different kinds. Reynolds is a driven man, utterly dedicated to his art, completely intolerant of any distraction with his sister managing his life to allow him the freedom to devote his energies to his talents. Alma soon finds out that even buttering toast too loudly in his presence can spark scenes of anger as does bringing tea to him unannounced. If he was a real-life person he would be instantly diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as any small deflection from his normal routine sends him into either anger, despair or both. Although there was much press that the film perhaps tipped over into misogyny and Krieps was interviewed about why she would take part in a movie that was about controlling women that’s not a stick I can use against it.
For starters, for anyone who has seen the movie it’s abundantly clear that the character of Reynolds isn’t really controlling Alma at all, it’s simply that he very obviously has a disorder and can’t accept anything outside his routine. Secondly, the third act of the film sees Alma turn the tables on Reynolds. Not just along the OCD lines he displays but in a thoroughly psychopathic manner, putting his life in danger just so she can control him and even at times torture him through his dislike of louds noises. It’s hard to imagine how anyone who has seen the movie could level the criticisms of male control unless they walked out of the cinema well before the end.
It’s this final third of the movie where it goes off the rails. Having progressed at a pace akin to a snail hitching a ride on a glacier it then crams too much into the end and the relationship becomes simply too bonkers to believe in for a second longer. When you hear the line at the top of this review spoken in context you don’t know whether to laugh out loud, throw something at the screen or pity poor Daniel Day Lewis for having to speak it.
It’s the dialogue above all else where Anderson really fails. The clipped, emotionally stunted upper middle class Englishness of it all is bad enough but characters often speak as if some of the lines have been cut out, trading philosophical musings with lots of silences in a way in which not one person in the real world has ever once spoken. I was reminded throughout of the dreary television plays of Stephen Poliakoff, the all time benchmark in inaccessible characters speaking in riddles or musing on the nature of humanity in every single line in dramas where nothing ever happens and which seem to be aimed only at half a dozen critics in the quality newspapers at the exclusion of the rest of the viewing public. Anderson seems to have taken this template and turned it into a movie to try and win Oscars with. A very well made movie, but one which has you looking at your watch and boggling at its lunatic conclusion.