Thoughts on Personal Shopper (2016)

The second collaboration between Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart after the thought-provoking Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), Personal Shopper (2016) is a ghost story, erotic romance, and a combination of the two. Or at least it tries to combine them. Though a number of individual scenes achieve greatness, and using a series of missed texts received all at once to build tension is downright ingenious, the film as a whole misses its mark.

Richard Brody blames this on a lack of felt texture and emotion, and at first I was inclined to agree. But the premise is that Maureen (Stewart) is grieving, and grieving has a tendency to dull the senses, or so I’ve heard. After turning it over in my mind for a few hours, I came to the conclusion that the mystery text messages, on which most of the film hinges, just aren’t mysterious enough. It’s understandable, given their ultimate provenance, but I feel like they needed to be more ambiguous, and not just stalkery, to attract and keep the attention of a girl on the go. And the idea that she might mistake the texts for messages from her twin brother from beyond the grave is implausible; she should be able to tell immediately whether the texter’s style and strategy are the same.

For a more evocative and moving account of what it feels like to grieve, I recommend not watching this film but reading David Ehrlich’s interview with Stewart and Assayas about it, which is also a personal essay about grieving for his father.

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