Double Trouble

There’s a question that’s often called to mind when facing dilemmas: “What would your best self do?”

Indeed what would Best Daryl do when facing problems? (Or when he’s not facing any?) Surely Best Daryl is going to do everything well. Great, actually. Perfect.

And he’ll be perfectly annoying.

His greatness is going to crawl under my skin, because, heck, he’s me and I don’t have his confidence and intelligence and overall awesomeness and biceps.

That is the predicament which Netflix’s Paul Rudd-starrer, Living with Your Self, explores. Miles Elliot (Rudd) is an advertising agent who is stuck in a rut, probably depressed. Until his star-employee colleague tips him about a spa that can turn anyone into their “best self”.

Miles goes to the spa, incredulous but miserable. After a short chitchat with the therapists, he falls asleep on the operating chair and wakes up gasping for breath — in a shallow grave in the woods.

Disoriented, he limps home for hours…only to find his best self talking to his wife, Kate (Aisling Bea), upstairs.

The ensuing tussle between the two Miles — through a fast-paced eight-episode run — is both hilarious and thought provoking. Which is probably why it is addicting. The characters are — hard to admit — relatable. Who has never “bickered” with themselves? Who has not been ashamed of their past wrongdoings, their past selves? Who has never seen themselves in a mirror and said, “Ugh.”

Not me. When I learned the word “should”, I became aware of a constant battle between Actual Daryl and Ideal Daryl. (Bear with me.) Sometimes, it’s exhausting, that inner war. Especially when Actual fails and Ideal seems to gloat. And especially if you live in a culture that fetishizes “constant improvement”, “self-help”, and “positive psychology”.

But the two, fortunately, end up reconciling at some point, thank God. This is when you admit you’re wrong and resolve to be better next time. That’s always the sweetest moment between Actual and Ideal.

And all this, Living with Yourself plays out dramatically well.

Anatomy of a Toxic Relationship


Phantom Thread (2017) weaves a story of love, revenge, insanity

Phantom Thread is a study on toxic relationships with a proposal on how to live with it — if you’re insane enough.

Three-time Oscar Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis plays the perfectionist fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock. Set in 1950s London, heiresses and royalty come to him for their dresses. To these women, Woodcock is a god who turns them into silken queens in ermine coats.

Woodcock carries an air of silent dukedom and magnetism, a calm flirtatiousness that streams out in choice words. We see this perfectly when he retreats to the countryside and meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), the young, coy, and audacious waitress who serves him breakfast. The first time they talk, you’d think they’d known each other for years. Not that they talk profusely; they don’t, they’re British. In fact, a formal customer-waitress transaction ensues, but you know a life-long deal is already being negotiated. You just know one is tailor made for the other. They know it, too.

Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) believes he’ll never get married because of his profession. Photo: Focus Features

So soon Alma finds herself in London, working for Woodcock as assistant and model. But more than that, she is the old man’s muse and sweetheart.

Trouble begins to brew during breakfast when Woodcock demands fuss-free silence over the table. Alma was buttering her toast and tinkling some china and disturbing Woodcock from his dress-sketching reverie. The man stormed out of the room, enraged.

Woodcock then maintains a manipulative and demanding behavior that smothers Alma’s naivety. There’s already a preview to this attitude in the couple’s first after-date date, at Woodcock’s country cottage, when he took Alma’s measurements, with his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) noting the numbers. “You have no breasts,” he said, casually. The startled girl apologized, and Woodcock just said, “no, no, you’re perfect” — to the girl’s baffled relief — “My job to give you some. If I choose to.” When Woodcock went out of the room to get a sample dress, Cyril noted that Alma actually has the ideal shape. The scene was weird, but you’re endeared, like Alma, to the thought that for once, what you thought was a weakness is actually a strength.

Breakfast is time dedicated to silence, at least according to Reynolds Woodcock. Photo: Focus Features

Too bad, Alma is too insecure to leave Woodcock inspite of his genteel douchery; she craves his attention, his esteem. At one crucial point, he tells her he doesn’t need her.

Then the world goes upside down.

Alma takes her revenge. The story goes to a sickening swerve, making you question your previous feelings towards the couple. Is it right to hurt the person you love, who happens to be a prick in tuxedo? Will you tolerate an endless cycle of abuse, knowing that…you can do something similar and reignite that early-stage romance?

According to one writer, the film seems to be the best “food movie” in recent memory. Photo: Focus Features

Phantom Thread — one of the Best Picture nominees at the 2018 Oscars — is a beautiful zooming in to contrasts: Woodcock’s posh lifestyle versus Alma’s rustic upbringing; his exact measurements and demands versus her haphazard outlook in life; his condescension versus her tacit rebellion; his superstitions versus her culinary science; his loving and wounding, and hers.

In the end, one may feel sympathy for the two loonies — for the old man who has not grown up and for the young woman who’s ready to mother him…their niche of Freudian f*ckery. But I bet no one wants that kind of relationship — a prequel to hell.