Olivier Assayas’ desperately flawed Personal Shopper is undoubtedly my least favourite film of the year so far. It has a script so stale you could snap it over your knee and an array of equally wooden performances to match. Kristen Stewart is at the heart of all the chaos. Having successfully broken away from the restrictions of the Twilight franchise I have been impressed with her recent work in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women and Woody Allen’s Cafe Society. She’s certainly not to blame for the mess that is Personal Shopper but it’s safe to say she doesn’t help. I think she is an easily irritating screen presence as well as often being a striking one. Stewart is Maureen – already trapped by a name which in itself is drastically unconvincing. Following the sudden death of her twin brother, she is waiting for him to send her a sign from the afterlife. She spends her free time staking out his past home, desperate for a sign that they promised to leave the other when one of them passed on to the spiritual world. Assayas’ film seems to take place in a world where this second ghostly realm is accepted as real by all – that, or perhaps everyone is just desperately naive and easily swayed, it’s quite hard to differentiate between these two possibilities. To fund her limbo-like state of being, Maureen works as a personal shopper for an egotistical celebrity. She frequently expresses her dislike of her job but fails to see the extreme privilege of such a job that sees her travelling around Europe to source extravagant garments and accessories for her ungrateful boss.
When Maureen begins to receive concerning and invasive text messages from an unknown source, she must figure out who is watching her and what they want. The texts are potentially a channel between the spiritual and physical world and the director plays with this concept of technology and death far too clumsily. For a frustratingly long chunk of the film we simply watch Stewart’s character texting back and forth with the anonymous correspondent. It is hard to express in words just how terribly dull this experience was to watch. At other points in the film there are well crafted, ghostly scares and the occasional sign of strong direction but it’s not enough to save the speedily sinking ship that is Personal Shopper. All the actors deliver the unfathomably daft dialogue with true conviction but as an audience member it remains impossible to buy the heavy and lengthy scenes of strained exposition and foreboding. Key moments that were shown in the film’s trailers only take place in the film’s final third, resulting in a somehow equally rushed and drawn out final twenty minutes. Personal Shopper would have been a more hilarious experience if it wasn’t so unbearably boring. I don’t know what dumbfounded me more, the fact that a mid-twenties hipster living in Paris could be called Maureen or the fact that we were supposed to buy that she was also a communicator with the ghosts of the deceased. Personal Shopper brings deep insincerity to a deeply cynical audience; a potent and intense recipe for utter disaster. In a nutshell, Personal Shopper is self-indulgent, privileged white-feminist trash.
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