Kristen Stewart stars in another indie drama, this time with a supernatural twist. Painting a tale of loss and acceptance, Personal Shopper offers plenty of interesting ideas, but can't pull them all together. Come inside to check out my full review!
Personal Shopper follows Maureen (Kristen Stewart), who, as the title suggests is a personal shopper for a wealthy celebrity in France. Throughout her day she goes about buying clothes, jewelry, and doing other menial tasks, but that's her day job. In her spare time she seeks out the paranormal. The specific focus of the film is that she's searching to connect with the deceased spirit of her fraternal twin brother, who passed away due to a heart defect (which she also has).
After spending the night in her brother's previous house she makes a connection to...something. While she hopes it's her brother, something more malevolent seems to be at work. This paranormal side is what makes up the primary drama/focus of the story as it begins to affect her day job and rest of her life.
Olivier Assayas does a solid job of making the film look impressive. Long shots and a pervasive silence throughout many sequences (with only a few background sound effects) do a great job of crafting strong visual tension and filling you with a sense of the unknown. You're not really sure what's going to happen in any given scene, making the thriller aspect of the story feel legitimate. Couple that with a really impressive performance from Kristen Stewart, who manages to engage you even when there's no dialog in a scene. Her subtle movements sell the reality of her character, making the stuff going on around her more interesting and dramatic.
The problem, however, is the story can't quite figure out what it wants to do. The script is a little all over the place with a variety of themes/ideas presented but don't ever feel entirely connected to one another. Ostensibly, the point of the story is about loss, grief, and finding a way to move forward, but the movie throws in subplots about restlessness in youth, living the way you choose to, and embracing life’s risks/fears.
These are all excellent themes, and in several instances throughout the film are presented in a way that truly resonates with audiences. These moments serve as flashes of brilliance throughout the story, but when they're meshed together they feel out of place with one another. There are too many elements and ideas fighting for attention, that none of them feel like they get the time they deserve, or need.
For example, at one point there's a "murder mystery" of sorts that comes into play, where Maureen stumbles upon something horrific. The implication is that the spectral forces she's tapped into are somehow the cause, but it leaves her under suspicion by the police. It seems like an interesting twist in the story, but it's resolved so quickly (we're talking literally about 10-15 minutes), I wondered at its inclusion.
Personal Shopper has many such moments sprinkled into the narrative, to the point where it feels more like a slice of life style film rather than something with a more specific point. While it makes for some poignant filmmaking in particular scenes, the overall movie feels weaker for it. As such, Personal Shopper comes off as a jumbled mess, a beautiful and well acted mess, but a mess nonetheless.