I see dead plot threads…
Hark! Do you hear that sound? No? Why it’s everyone’s favorite jingle for Indie Art House Corner *cue children’s cheer track;* it’s where the budgets are low, the concepts are high, and nothing makes sense. Yeah it’s been a while since I’ve used that opening, but that’s because the avant garde films don’t bother to show their face in Miami until utterly random times like end of March in this case. For today’s installment, we have ourselves a Cannes Film Festival award-winning movie from France starring Kristen Stewart as a medium who can communicate with ghosts. I’d say something snarky about dead people and Ms. Stewart, but I know she’s spent the past six or so years trying to escape the gravitational pull of Twilight with decent to great acting across several films, so I’ll keep those jokes to a minimum. Instead, let’s make fun of just about everything else.
Alright, Stewart plays Maureen, a full time personal shopper for a fashion model in Paris who is also a part time medium. She’s been hanging out in Paris on account of her twin brother dying only three months prior in Paris, and the pair had promised each other to reach out to the other side for contact should either pass away. Maureen attempts contact by staying in her twin’s old mansion as well as researching various methods of communicating the dead. In the midst of all this, she begins receiving texts from an unknown entity that seems to know all about her and her own frustrations with her job, namely she wants to be someone else. And that’s about all I got in terms of a synopsis as the film is impenetrable in that area.
What I mean is that the movie continuously introduces plot threads that are dropped almost as soon as they are introduced with nary a consideration for where they could have gone. For instance, the film opens up with Stewart exploring her brother’s creepy mansion as she calls out for her brother’s name whenever she hears something off. But when she’s not looking, a (very poorly done) spectral apparition pops up in a menacing manner, before the next scene change. At which point, our focus goes to Maureen’s daily life of going to high end fashion stores and collecting the latest and greatest wear for her client, Kira. It takes several minutes of pure shopping porn that made me wonder if someone changed the reel for an entirely different film until I remembered the title was indeed, “Personal Shopper.” That’s fine, I said to myself, I guess this is really a character study of someone living this odd lifestyle while dealing with family drama. But that’s not where the film goes, instead it goes everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
The majority of the film then switches to Stewart texting with an unknown caller who acts all mysterious at first, but you and Stewart quickly get annoyed about his vague messages. Mostly because the conversation is just vague nonsense with the unknown caller bugging her with random questions that reveal nothing about the plot or character development wise until the very end (incidentally this will lead to no payoff but more on that later). Initially, Stewart believes this to be her dead brother trying to talk to her, but she only continues to talk to this entity as it appears it knows where she is at all times. Now, it’s in these scenes that Stewart becomes paranoid that someone is just stalking her and messing with her, and to her credit, Stewart does pretty well with this material.
Honestly, I enjoyed Stewart’s acting so much that she becomes the saving grace of this film despite the fact she still has the same dead eyed stare she’s been giving since her first on screen appearance. Here though, it works as she’s a character dealing with the loss of her brother as well as dealing with the fear that she could die from the same ailment that lead to her brother’s death. Stewart especially shines when she’s discussing her emotional state with other cast members, but less so when the aforementioned phone shenanigans rear their ugly head and she constantly just looks pissed she’s getting these weird messages. Even less entertaining is watching along with Stewart various YouTube clips of other mediums. But what’s odd about these particular scenes is that all but one of them go absolutely nowhere in discussing the paranormal afflicting our protagonist’s situation.
Which becomes a recurring motif in the film: ideas being introduced and then dropped almost entirely. The film discusses how Stewart really wants to be someone else about halfway through the movie, despite the film never once hinting prior to this scene that this was something bothering her. Then the film forgets about this motivation entirely after 15 minutes to introduce a genuinely scary conflict that could affect our protagonist’s life…before, you guessed it, it’s somehow resolved in the most obtuse way imaginable. Without diving into spoilers, this major conflict gets resolved offscreen with only a small hint as to what exactly occurred. Strong flashbacks to the non-existent climax of No Country for Old Men came to mind, only that film still had a strong 85% of the running time for me to forgive how everything wrapped up. But this movie gives you nothing of worth to hold on to besides Stewart’s acting.
Seriously, the cinematography is painfully flat and uninteresting, giving us no hints or allowing us to speculate what’s really going on. The way other characters speak isn’t out of the ordinary, so it’s hard for you to make conjectures that perhaps something else is going on with our main character. I had a lengthy conversation with my girlfriend and her friends who all made different interpretations ranging from a split personality our protagonist had to maybe she was already a ghost, as if this film was hiding some twist ending that never came. That’s because this film literally cuts to white end credits in the middle of a conversation a character has and that’s it. Almost as if the director realized he wasn’t going anywhere with this movie and decided to cut in a random location with “fuck it, that’ll do” and bet people will project some meaning into a piece of cinema that has nothing at all.
I do not buy that there was anything extra to this film that wasn’t presented as is. I firmly believe that film making is a conversation between an artist and its audience. Sometimes artists can be a little obtuse with how they present their story, in order to challenge their viewers to see their film from a different perspective. Sometimes this even involves having the audience pay attention to odd visual or audio choices that force the audience to ponder if something more subtle is happening on screen. Mulholland Drive springs to mind based on the chain of events that follows in the film that make you seriously question everything that you saw in the first 90 minutes. Another tactic employed by filmmakers is relying on the audience’s own knowledge behind certain storytelling tropes. Take vampire legends and The Neon Demon, which I personally wasn’t a fan of but could still see how someone else could have used their own knowledge behind mythical lore to create a through-line that enhances the film.
Personal Shopper offers no other sort of interpretation than what was presented. The film fails to give you any clues to allow the audience to begin theorizing that something else is at play in the movie. The script is very matter-of-fact, so there’s nothing to read between the lines besides white space (which upon reflection is what’s well and truly ALWAYS between any lines). And most damning of all, this movie is such a meandering mess to get through given all the plot threads that are introduced and dropped without any care or consideration given.
There are many a film I can name that offer different interpretations that are satisfying to come to based on the information presented on screen. But Personal Shopper does not deserve to be in that category of film. Given all the positive press I’ve seen for this movie, I’m convinced this is a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes and someone should have at least told the Emperor to not go commando, as it’s completely pointless. For some decent acting from Stewart, I’ll spare this a harsh rating and give this a very low…