Personal Shopper (2016)

First screened at Cannes Film Festival in 2016, Personal Shopper is a psychological thriller/mystery by French director Olivier Assayas. Starring Kristen Stewart as Maureen, a personal shopper to a wealthy and petulant celebrity whom she barely sees, this film looks at Maureen’s links to “the other side” and on her journey through a tough chapter in her life.

Mostly set in France, as you can expect the visuals are stunning – beautiful cobbled streets, white house’s set in lush greenery and chic apartments. It’s all very French and very serene. The cast however seem drab in comparison; dark colours and comfy clothing seem to be the go to, with one silver sequinned dress she picks up for her client becoming the only piece of clothing to evoke brightness in the film. It was a nice touch to have Maureen hold it up against herself – dressed in an oversized sweatshirt – as a visual representation of how different her life is from that of her client Kyra. Everything else seems muted, not quite to the level of a Nordic Noir, but it feels as though there is a wash of dreary grey over the entire film.

Sadly that is what I found the film to be, dreary. Everything about the film seems very vague, it meanders slowly giving you the occasional crumb of information whilst you sit there asking yourself why is she/he doing that. I presume they meant for this to build suspense, but honestly it was a little maddening. By the time answers to my questions arrived I’d long stopped caring. Why would a character be sat in an unfurnished house all night with no power? You find out but by the time you do you aren’t really that interested, which leaves you far less invested in what Maureen is doing. There is a difference between mysterious and dragging things out for the sake of it.

The cast is small for this film, and very few of them made much impact with me. The characters I found most interesting were barely on screen; Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten, Maureen’s boss, who manages to be unpleasant and troublesome beyond her limited screen time and Ingo (Lars Eidinger), her lover who questions why Maureen doesn’t want more for her life. These two had barely any time on camera but were the most interesting in the entire film.

Now as for the ghost/spirit storyline of the story, this may be one of the least suspenseful “hauntings” I’ve seen in a film (And I’ve seen Witchcraft starring the Hoff). Maureen running around a house scared did nothing to build tension, it just sort of happened with very little precursor for it. Of course this is where a twist attempts to happen, it’s not who you think it is. Except it was so obvious it wasn’t going to be it was a little disappointing. The medium and spirit talk left me rather bored, it needed more exploration and substance to it – and yes I realise that’s a funny thing to say about things that don’t have substance. All in all this may be the dullest film to feature the word ‘ectoplasm’ in it ever.

During the end credits of the film I realised that the best way to look at this film was as Maureen’s journey through grief. The awful boss, the tragic loss, the job she hates, those aren’t actually important – these are all just steps on a journey back to living her life fully and realising who she wants to be. Which makes the haunting element quite redundant, but that’s fine because there wasn’t really a lot of that anyway. Rather than seeing the film as a psychological thriller it is far more of a family drama, but I guess that doesn’t sound half as sexy does it. But it’s truly what it is, and labelled as that I probably wouldn’t have been quite as disappointed in it as I was. But they didn’t do that, and I was disappointed.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5

Watchable family drama with too many unnecessary elements thrown in to try and make it something it’s not.

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