Spoilers might ask for a discount.
Sometimes I don’t know what to make of titles until I’ve seen the film. If this feature had received the mainstream treatment, there’s a good chance it would have put emphasis on some smaller aspect of the film. In such cases, we could have ended with just the name of the main character or misled the audience into thinking that it was a ghost story. All that being said, the title does focus on a small aspect of the film, however it’s one that points out how much this character’s life is not her own right now.
Personal Shopper (2016) was written and directed by Olivier Assayas. A young woman named Maureen (Kirsten Stewart) lives in Paris working as a personal shopper for a celebrity. We first learn she’s a medium and has recently lost her twin brother, Lewis, whom she still expects a sign from the afterlife. She’s reluctant to move on with her life before such event happens. She has a few visitations in his brother’s old house, some subtle and some a little more hectic but nothing clear. Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz), her brother’s girlfriend, is trying to sell the house but won’t until Maureen has cleared it. We also see her shopping for her employer, a job in which she has no identity and very little future.
You can call it a movie about nothing if you will, with a strange but relatable mix of tones. The paranormal events are scarce and never give Maureen the closure she seeks. On the other hand, random conversations with people sometimes seem to spark in her the idea to focus on new interests, showing she has something of an artists’ spark in her. She barely interact with her employer, Kyra (Nora Waldstätten) and the only time we see her is when Kyra and her lawyer are having a conversation with a third party. She actually ends up opening up more with Kyra’s lover, a writer named Ingo (Lars Eidinger), where we learn a little more about Maureen’s past and the circumstances with her brother Lewis’ passing. It’s only when Maureen talks to someone else that we really get some exposition, which makes us yearn for her to talk to people.
The film is pure character-driven. The paranormal aspects are few and far between without ever becoming the central focus of the film. Further down the line, we’ll see Maureen dealing with a digital stalker and later on become involved in a murder investigation, but none of these are actually sources of tension or thrill. What we’re really watching is a character experiencing grief (a constant theme in my recent reviews) but without ever using it as a trigger to move into horror, or even drama. In this case, grief has caused Maureen to put her life on pause and stop seeking fulfilment. She’s kind of lost without a compass.
It’s not horror, and despite the murder and the stalker, it’s far from a thriller. I would dare describe it as a slice-of-life drama where the priority is on Maureen’s inability to move on. She has pursuits and interests on spirituality and art that we manage to see glimpses of when she commutes as she watches something on her phone. You don’t get more of an overarching plot than that. Audiences looking for chills or thrills will find themselves unsatisfied. The mixed tone is probably what will throw off movie viewers eager to find a theme, but if you’re absorbed by Stewart’s performance it can be quite fulfilling to watch if you don’t mind the pace.
Highly recommended for non-casual audiences with reservations for the everybody else. It is enjoyable as a character-driven drama with slice-of-life themes. It has a mixed tone where it will show you paranormal phenomena on very brief spurts and return back to a relaxed tone the next. There’s graphic scene with a dead body and blood enough to make someone think the movie is going to switch into a thriller just for that plot to later be resolved almost as an afterthought. You really should be here for Stewart’s performance alone as well as the casual way her life seems to be halted. It’s definitely an acquired taste for audiences looking for something different. Try it on before you buy it.
That will do for now.