Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Review: Personal Shopper

Personal Shopper
Cert: 15 / 105 mins / Dir. Olivier Assayas / Trailer

I like that thing where you see a location in a movie which you were at, less than an hour earlier. Granted, that doesn't happen very often, but the chances certainly seem to be increased by catching a film when you're passing through London. It's almost like Oliver Assayas' Personal Shopper took a (literal) five minute detour through London just to show me St Pancras station and make me smile. Almost like it had some kind of otherworldly, psychic power. Almost. But not quite.

Maureen*1, a young American woman working in Paris as a personal shopper to the rich and famous, is grieving the recent loss of her twin brother. Both had nascent paranormal abilities, and Maureen spends her downtime trying to make contact with her sibling, although this holds the door open to other entities as well. Also, there's a murder.

Well, then. Most movies revolving around the supernatural will begin with a layer of audience-oriented skepticism, gradually increasing the in-plot, coalescing evidence until the point where a pay-off can be reached that (hopefully) doesn't stretch narrative credibility. Personal Shopper is almost the exact opposite, having a concrete level of 'oh, ghosts are real btw' from act one, but introducing uncertainty through the events elsewhere in the plot. And the more this is applied, the more the whole thing becomes unstuck.

When Maureen begins receiving anonymous texts from someone (or thing) that apparently knows her*2, the film loses balance slightly and never manages to regain its footing. Personal Shopper isn't sure if it wants to be an unconventional ghost story, or a philosophical psych-thriller. As a result, it commits to neither and achieves results accordingly. The film is more about dealing with the PTSD of a close family bereavement than any exploration of spirituality, and Kristen Stewart's on very strong form as a medium who's terrified of the unknown. Although it perhaps says a lot about the script that her best scenes are essentially solo-performances. Marreen's backstory is teased out relatively naturalistically (for the most part), although the screenplay does seem to assume that no-one in the audience has any idea what a medium is, judging by how laboured that point becomes.

On the plus side, the film gains a point for being set largely in Paris without a single establishing-shot of the Eiffel Tower. Although to be fair, that's no less than I'd expect of an actual French production. That said, the point is instantly deducted for the occasional swathes of un-subtitled French dialogue (and at one point, Swedish). They're reasonably short in themselves, but I've no idea what was being said there, only that everyone looked very concerned. And I have to assume that this was a deliberate move rather than an oversight, but it's pretty rude either way; don't assume that your audience will be fluent in two languages. Either the content of your script is important to the film or it isn't*3.

Certainly an interesting film, by no means a great one. I'd like to have liked Personal Shopper more, but found the forced ambiguity unsatisfying.

Fair play for showing the ghosts, though. I hope The Vomiting Lady gets her own spinoff movie. We've certainly had worse.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Wel, it's no Hereafter

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
You may as well, all atmosphere will be effectively lost on a smaller screen.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
For me? No.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Kristen Stewart is great.
But she's been great before and she'll be great again

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Oh, probably not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Kristen Stewart's in this, and she was in that Adventureland, along with Bill BB-8 Hader.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Yeah, the protagonist's name is Maureen. On Friday, I saw a film where it was Elaine. It's like the supernatural heroines of 2017 are friends of my Grandma. [ BACK ]

*2 Okay seriously, though. She's there with her phone and a text comes through with the number marked as "unknown". This means the phone and/or network has no traceability for the sender's number. Which means the text can't be replied to. When you receive a text from someone who isn't in your phonebook, the phone displays the raw-number, not just 'unknown'. There are apps you can use to block your number when texting, but in order to be able to reply to these, the carrier will need to figure out the number of the sender. Which will then display the number. Yet there Maureen is, having a lengthy anonymous conversation with appalling punctuation. And that's another thing we learn, that Kristen Stewart is the kind of person who'll finish a sentence in a text without any punctuation. Or worse, she'll use punctation with a space after the final word, but before the full-stop/exclamation-mark etc. Unforgivable. And don't get me started on multiple consecutive question-marks. [ BACK ]
EDIT: Very much aware that I've complained about a lack of realism in a film specifically featuring ghosts. Don't even care.

*3 Any real supernatural tension the film managed to muster (and it is there) was offset by the light of the needlessly powerful bulb in the Fire Exit sign, bleeding directly onto the bottom-left corner of Screen 6. Obviously this is no reflection on the filmmakers, but the presentation of a movie is every bit as important as the content itself. Something you'd expect a cinema to be especially aware of. I know why the sign is there and I know it has to be illuminated, but it doesn't have to be visible from outside… [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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