Personal Shopper is a film with an identity crisis.
It dances back and forth between genres, never finding a comfortable zone. Kristen Stewart as Maureen Cartwright is in a horror film one moment, a heist picture the next, and in a ghost story whenever it’s convenient.
“Do you want to be someone else?” Maureen is asked, and the film says yes.
There is a severe lack of character development in the supporting characters, with a bland cast occasionally giving Stewart someone to bounce mediocre lines off of. Only spectral Lewis gets anywhere near as much attention as Maureen. Director Olivier Assayas distances the audience from Stewart, lurking with his camera for medium shots and rarely moving in closer. He keeps us at bay with extended sequences of cellphone conversations and transportation, with a significant portion of the film being Maureen riding her scooter around Paris and traveling between European locales.
Those European hot spots are one of the highlights of Personal Shopper, with the location manager providing some of the best work on the film. The settings for many of the scenes were charming villas, classy hotels, luxurious boutiques, and exotic destinations. These places provided character and voice in an eloquent way that the script could not manage.
The editing unfortunately calls attention to the construction of the film rather than letting us dwell in the story. Personal Shopper was generous with its fade to blacks as transitions, and instead of punctuating significant moments or the end of the film, the impact was as if the film itself was sputtering and giving up. The director dangles several different hooks in front of the viewer that ultimately go nowhere. Narrative threads are picked up only to be dropped moments later, with a lack of action or resolution on a number of particular storylines. Assayas leaves behind gems of ideas for less interesting nuggets, squandering opportunities at every corner. The movie shines brightest as a ghost story, but not nearly enough screen time is dedicated to this aspect of the film.
Ultimately, Personal Shopper is Olivier Assayas’ nebulous New Wave wannabe fantasy; a fetishistic vapid spectacle as shallow as Maureen’s fashionista employer. The only thing here is loneliness and messages that never quite connect.