REVIEW: Personal Shopper

9 04 2017

Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper” bills itself as a ghost story, and that moniker applies to just about every facet of the film. Yes, there’s the obvious – Kristen Stewart’s Maureen considers herself a medium, and she looks to commune with the spirit of her recently departed twin brother Lewis. The first to leave the land of the living was to leave the other a sign, so she relocates to Paris in order to make contact. But mostly she’s just “waiting,” as Maureen describes it.

The apparitional element extends beyond the supernatural and the spiritualistic, though. Maureen pays her way in the City of Light as a personal shopper, a go-between for the producing and the consuming class. Her employer, the socialite Kyra, sends out Maureen as a phantom presence to select, purchase but never try on clothes for future engagements. The two scarcely ever have physical interactions, leading Maureen to approach her vocation with a deepening sense of estrangement and alienation. Not unlike with Lewis, it’s like she must communicate with and channel the spirit of a ghost.

Practically every aspect of “Personal Shopper” sees Maureen in contact with some kind of reality removed from her own, be it her boyfriend over Skype or a mysteriously probing and knowledgeable unknown number via text in the film’s centerpiece. As Maureen travels round-trip from Paris to London for the sole purpose of picking up a dress for Kyra, she feels an other-worldly gravitational pull to return to this persistent phantasm. As much as her thumbs may quiver in response, she keeps the conversation going for the cross-country train journey, revealing truths about herself to a person whose identity she cannot even verify.

There’s so much to unpack here, so much so that it feels wrong to even take a stab at the deeper meanings of “Personal Shopper” after just one viewing. Further watches will likely further illuminate just how carefully Stewart dances along the line of channeling someone and desiring to become that person altogether. Her ethereal performance does not so much power the film as she haunts it. Like a ghost, she’s diffuse, elusive and difficult to pin down and describe. B+



6 responses

19 04 2017

I’m not sure about your point “it feels wrong to even take a stab at the deeper meanings of “Personal Shopper” after just one viewing”. Even after further viewings the ambiguity is so central that you interpret it to match any mood you might have. This certainly is a divisive film. For me, there was little narrative substance. The tired old floating veils, self-levitating objects, and creaky floorboards show little originality; the only fresh contribution to the genre is the iPhone as a ghostly medium. But Stewart is outstanding.

19 04 2017
Marshall Shaffer

Did there have to be a “point?” I just wanted to acknowledge my own limitations from watching primarily to take in plot points. This is something I want to come back to and revisit with perspective and distance. I see this review as staking out my initial position.

19 04 2017

Good approach. Do you ever find yourself substantially altering a review after rewatching or reading others?

19 04 2017
Marshall Shaffer

I usually let the original review stand, even if I end up regretting parts of it!

19 04 2017

Interesting. I regard mine as works in progress but in reality changes are minor. Nice chatting.

19 05 2017

I just saw this last night. I didn’t really understand the medium plot line–well I “got it,” (I guess), but found it the least interesting aspect of the film (except for the fact that she is in Paris for that reason). I could have just watched Stewart navigate her life and that job and her desires and her solitary existence the whole time. I felt annoyed whenever she’d talk to people (except for Kyra’s “boyfriend” and Kyra herself). I could care less about what’s her name’s new boyfriend. At the risk of trying to say I wanted a different film entirely (I hate when people do that but won’t admit it), I am saying that I liked seeing Stewart’s character going around alone and struggling with herself by herself. The private moments even when the world is buzzing all around you.

I am a huge Clouds of Sils Maria fan.

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