If you look up Personal Shopper on Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll see some interest-piquing words thrown around. Words like, riveting, haunting, otherworldly, scary, terror, ghost story, transfixing, and on and on. It currently has a critics rating of 79% on the site. Which is “fresh” despite 79% being a less-than-impressive grade on a math test. It would be fine, for sure. And you’d definitely pass. But is that the best you can do? Really? If you’re being honest with yourself? OK, I’m being harsh, but the real question is; does Personal Shopper live up to the words used to describe it? Well, read on to find out!
Maureen is a personal shopper (title!) for a celebrity-type. She doesn’t like her job or her employer very much but it pays the bills. The bills in this case are rent for a little apartment in Paris and cigarette money. Maureen is morose because her twin brother died 3 months ago and she hasn’t received a “sign” from him yet. You see, she’s a medium. So was her brother. Knowing they would die young due to their shared congenital heart defect, they made a pact that whoever (whomever?) died first would stick around to make contact from beyond the grave. She tries the haunted house where he died first. Is he the haunter? She then does a lot of personal shopping and flat-affecting until she starts getting mysterious anonymous texts. From her dead brother? When Anonymous Texter suggests Maureen play dress-up with her employer’s couture clothes, she does. (why wouldn’t she do what an anonymous text suggests?) After a few dress-up sessions, the texter leaves her a (real, physical) key to a hotel room. She dresses up and goes only to find the place empty and reserved under her own name. (spooky!) Then she finds her employer dead and senses “a presence” so she flees. But that doesn’t cause her too much trouble because she only gets 2 blocks before she returns and calls the cops. There’s absolutely no indication that she is truly suspected of the crime. Then what? Oh, she goes back to the hotel room because some personally shopped items from the employer’s apartment are mysteriously in her apartment. (more spooky!) Was it a ghost? Is she crazy (or just stricken with ennui)? Is it the person who is the obvious culprit? (it is) But also, ghosts are real! (but that’s not really a revelation. it’s more a matter of fact)
If you think the above synopsis reads like a convoluted mess, then I’ve done a disservice to convoluted messes. Convoluted would be an improvement. This film is a just a boring mess. It has been hailed as the work of an auteur Film Artiste, and maybe Olivier Assayas qualifies for the moniker, but this film seems like a back-of-napkin brainstorm stretched wafer-thin to feature-length with the hope that good photography would be enough to save it. There is zero character arc for our protagonist – played by Kristin Stewart at her mopiest. And the disparate story elements never gel into a cohesive plot. For a “ghost story”, there aren’t many ghosts. They are merely a tiny part of this movie. (personal shopping takes up way more screen time) It comes off as the work of someone who believes in ghosts and treats them as a matter of course. So, they happen to be in this story about a young woman who’s sad and dissatisfied. We do get to see some ghosts – some whispy/ectoplasmy, some invisible, and some that look like present-day Haley Joel Osment – but we also see a LOT of shopping, some uneventful traveling, some relationship mundanity, some minor work difficulties, and a woman engaging in some milquetoast rebellion on orders from anonymous text messages. All without the slightest hint of levity. It’s tedious and frustrating. Worse, it’s offensive that this film has been billed as a thriller. Any thrills to be had are buried too deep in drudgery to excite viewers.
The Final Cut: If you’re looking for a story about a rudderless woman saddened by a fairly recent loss, Personal Shopper may work for you. If you’re hoping for a tense ghost story, look elsewhere.