"In absence of a sufficiently told story, the primary image that we’re left with is Stewart on her phone or trying on beautiful clothing"
As Olivier Assayas’ latest film tells us, the personal shoppers of celebrities hold a ghostly status behind the scenes of glitz and glamour. Constantly on the move from designers to penthouse suites, they work quietly and the only evidence shows in the clothes that grace the pictures of glossy magazines.
In Personal Shopper, Maureen, played by Kristen Stewart, is one of these workers, juggling her job whilst dealing with a spectral presence of her own in the form of her twin brother Lewis. Waiting for a sign of peace from him, she lingers restlessly in Paris and frequents his old house, desperate to make a spiritual connection.
Following on from his previous film The Clouds of Sils Maria (also starring Stewart), this film is quite a different creature. Sils Maria was wry, playing with the audience’s perception through a clever false narrative. Personal Shopper, on the other hand, is far more muddled. Like its predecessor, it chooses what you see. The problem is, what you see isn’t very interesting.
To give full credit to Stewart, this isn’t down to her. She’s left to carry on through with muddy dialogue and pacing that makes a snail look slow, and is undoubtedly giving it her best. Maureen’s anguish is believable and in the all too brief flashes of sarcastic humour, Stewart truly glows. Unfortunately, without strong material as in Assayas’ earlier film, Stewart sometimes slips into her old habits of dramatic blinking and stuttering, tendencies that she generally now avoids from the blockbuster days.
The film falls between dramatic attempts to link deep thoughts on the afterlife with professional jealously. Kristen Stewart’s uncanny ability to make any couture look instantly fantastic is exploited to the max here, as her wish to be someone else dominates the narrative for around half an hour. This results in plenty of shots of the actress trying on the sort of clothes that Karl Lagerfeld probably throws to her every few weeks - certainly beautiful, but not adding to the story.
The fashion element itself is probably what adds to the sense of confusion in the film, which in the trailers has been inexplicably presented as a horror movie. There’s one dramatic incident, a sub-plot with Lewis’ partner but in the end around half an hour is spent with shots of Maureen texting. Then, that plot line is swept away after all the build up as if done with a scouring pad. In absence of a sufficiently told story, the primary image that we’re left with is Stewart on her phone or trying on beautiful clothing.
On a side note, if fashion is to be in the forefront, it takes more than dressing up a couture muse to make something of it. Look at Tom Ford’s films, where fashion is undoubtedly in the forefront but it’s matched by a cinematography that complements its style and a plot line that feeds in the rich emotion that fashion can convey and amplify. Personal Shopper never reaches and understands those heights, remaining a confusing disappointment after all the anticipation.