It took me a long time to finally care about Kristen Stewart the actress. She'd given me so many reasons to write her off, culminating in the disaster that was Snow White and the Huntsmen, that I shocked myself loving her performance in Equals so much last year. Ever since then, I have lowkey been on the KStew train. Even the the unsatisfying Cafe Society hasn't turned me away just yet (though she was actually decent in the otherwise bland film).
So when PERSONAL SHOPPER appeared on the New York Film Festival slate, I got kinda hyped. First of all, it's described as a genre film--a paranormal "thriller," to be exact--which immediately catches my attention. Though, after actually watching the film I now know that was incredibly generous. It's more like an "other" film, and not in a good way. It spends a lot of time building up to something on which it never delivers--a distinct mark of a bad film.
Stewart stars as Maureen, who's spending time in Paris as a personal shopper to Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), a spoiled, annoying superstar. (Maureen might have a secret obsession with haute couture, though she pretends to not care about any of it). But she is also there for another reason: Her brother Lewis, a medium, recently passed away there. She is hoping to find closure by visiting the place in which he died, and connecting with him one last time. So, in the first act of the film, I am still hopeful that this is going to be a thriller of some sort since she's apparently going to call on a dead person and have a final conversation with him (a basic premise, but I am still hanging on at this point). But then, nothing really happens beyond this. Maureen tries several times to beckon Lewis and he doesn't really come through (not really anyway). Despite foreboding music and a Scooby Doo-like apparition, there is nothing that scary, dark, or appealing going on here.
And the second act seems to be where writer/director Olivier Assayas PERSONAL SHOPPER recognizes the issues the film is already having and tries to replace it with a whole other plot that bears no connection to the premise. It's like we're watching a draft of the film that's still being worked on, and not the final cut. It becomes a bad crime fiction novel adaptation that wants to be a slick mystery (but is absolutely not that).
Despite Stewart's commitment (which really is impressive to see unfold in the middle of a sinking ship), the film is--no irony intended--dead on arrival. There are elements of loneliness and restlessness in both Maureen and her confidante Sara (Sigrid Bouaziz), but neither is compelling or developed enough to drive a narrative. PERSONAL SHOPPER is a flat, wasteful "thriller" that goes nowhere fast.
Rating: D+ (** out of *****)
Watch the trailer: