Personal Shopper (2016)
In “Personal Shopper”, a film of Olivier Assayas (“Paris, je t’aime” (2006)), Kristen Stewart plays a young woman Maureen who mourns the loss of her twin brother Lewis. Maureen visits the house where Lewis lived with his girlfriend, and believes that his ghost will try to communicate with her. In her daily job, Maureen is a personal shopper to a rich and famous star in Paris, a job she dislikes and only too keen to break the “rules” of her employment now and then. Soon her personal identity issues mix with her paranormal beliefs, producing restlessness and paranoia. Although admirable in its fresh approach, the film is also unfocused and dull. It tries at least three different points of focus: a ghost story; a murder mystery; and a high-society critique, all of which are underdeveloped and none of which work to a satisfactory conclusion.
Though slow to start, “Personal Shopper” commences by introducing interesting concepts and ideas. For example, a tomboy Maureen clearly has had close ties with her twin brother, Lewis (the mingling of personalities), and even shared with him some aspects of her physical autonomy, a close connection which now seems to continue on the spiritual level. However, although the film introduces this theme, it never explores it in any depth, apart from hinting that Maureen wants to be someone else, and undoubtedly imagines herself someone more important. The stylish film also makes great use of locations: Paris features heavily in the film; the audience gets to see a return Eurostar train journey from Paris, France to London, UK; and we are even taken on a journey to Oman.
However, then again, all the film’s cultural delights and Stewart’s performance are insufficient to produce a decent thriller. The script and dialogue seems to have been written by a twelve year-old, who took the “Paranormal Activity” (2007) premise and threw in there a mysterious persecution, a detective story, a dressing-up game and references to art. The film just screams amateur work, from its confused plot to the shots that sometimes disappear to nowhere; and even if that “amateur” approach was intentional, it is still very unconvincing. Originality is also not the film’s strongest point: its ghost-story premise had been done to death; its psychological break-downs and identity issues now reminisce “Black Swan” (2011); and more significantly – its use of mobile technology is now painfully similar to that in “La Corrispondenza” (2016). It becomes increasingly boring to watch Maureen (Stewart) as she goes through her day, shopping, smoking, drinking and fidgeting with her phone, with the latter being simply annoying. This means that, in this film, much like in recent “The Neon Demon” (2016), style rules over substance, resulting in a very unsatisfying plot and ending, which leaves too many questions unanswered. Even if the same fate was assigned to another film “Enemy” (2014), at least that movie had the decency to have a clear purpose and direction in mind, so as to not waste its audience’s time unnecessarily.
“Personal Shopper” plays with interesting themes and ideas, trying to mix different genres and styles, and boasts a controlled, committed performance by Kristen Stewart. However, it still feels very amateurish and, most of the time, it is simply dull. When the film thinks it gets tense and mysterious, it actually gets silly, and when it thinks it gets scary, it just gets totally ridiculous. 5/10