Review: Personal Shopper

Well, Personal Shopper is certainly a weird movie.

The film is the second collaboration between Kristen Stewart and writer/director Olivier Assayas, and I should mention that I haven’t actually seen the first. In fact, as I realised earlier and with surprise, I actually haven’t ever seen Stewart in any film – unless you count her very brief appearance at the end of the mostly-forgotten 2008 action flick Jumper. As my knowledge of her beyond that only really extended to her performances in five Twilight films and a gritty, live-action adaptation of Snow White (again, none of which I’ve watched), I wasn’t really expecting much from her.

Stewart is excellent in this film. She manages to be both mysterious and relatable, both sexy and unlikeable, both stoic and vulnerable, and all the while channeling a cynical personality that belies a deep, hidden, desperate hope. It’s an extremely complex performance, and she pulls it off tremendously. The rest of the cast is also strong, but Stewart rightly holds the spotlight.

The story is… well, it’s uneventful, for the most part, especially at the beginning. In fact, and unfortunately, the first twenty-five minutes is so incredibly boring that I nearly fell asleep in my seat. Granted, it was an exceptionally comfortable seat, but I’d just finished my second double-shot latte. The beginning of the film consists of Stewart walking around her dead brother’s old house during the day, and then again at night. The lack of music was soothing, the creaks of the old wood lulling.

I was startled out of my almost-sleep by a sudden tonal shift in the film. Now we were in a horror movie, complete with frightening visuals and multiple jump-scares. This carried on for around another fifteen minutes, after which the film became a psychological thriller, where it remained for the remainder of the movie (after a brief venture into erotic-thriller territory). I have to say, though, it kind of works, and I had no problem with the tone bouncing all over the place; however, this does not fix the incomprehensibly dull first twenty-five minutes.

The rest of the film tells the story of a (you guessed it!) personal shopper who is lingering in Paris, where her brother died, on the off-chance that he might try to contact her from beyond the grave. She already knows some people, and meets some new players as the story progresses, the most notable of whom is an unknown person who forms a relationship with her via text. As she attempts to deduce her new pen-pal’s identity, she goes about her day-to-day life, all the while hoping for a sign from her late twin.

The technical elements are solid, if a little unambitious, and the movie sounds great across the board. The cinematography and general direction are wonderful. The plot is where I started to get really confused, particularly in the final act, and I really don’t know what happened at the end. I have my theory, but I just can’t reconcile it against the facts and events presented earlier. Is the ending a plot-hole? Is it intentionally nonsensical? Did it simply go over my head? It could be any of these things, but satisfying it most certainly was not.

Personal Shopper is in limited release later this month. Check your local independent cinema for details.

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Alex Falzon

Alexander Falzon is a film critic, screenwriter and short story author. An RMIT graduate, Alexander enjoys watching and discussing film, and mixes an excellent martini. You can hit him up on Twitter @alexanderfalzon and read more of his reviews at alexfalzon.com.

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