Thursday, April 20, 2017

'Personal Shopper' Is Perplexing, Frustrating, and Strenuous; Ironically Entrancing

Kristen Stewart became popular for being the dumb-faced star of the atrocious Twilight movie series.  As a result, she had been a butt of jokes, and had been dismissed to the same category of bland actors like Jai Courtney (who was likable for the first time in Suicide Squad), Sam Worthington (who surprisingly delivered a great performance in Hacksaw Ridge), and Katherine Heigl (who I haven’t seen be notably good yet).  However, in recent years, she has been supposedly thriving in arthouse, indie style movies, shedding her “bad actor” status in the process.  And Personal Shopper was my first chance to see this new Kristen Stewart.

The movie centers on a personal shopper (duh) named Maureen (Stewart).  She works for a wealthy, high-profile socialite whose celebrity status prevents her from doing her own shopping.  When not performing these duties, she is attempting to communicate with her recently deceased twin brother, as she is supposedly sensitive to the spirit word as was his brother.  One day, she begins to receive unsettling messages from an anonymous number, which could either be an ominous stalker or something paranormal in origin.
Are the texts she receives from a human source?  If it is, then why is there a personal, quasi-omniscient quality to them?  And why does she easily bares her personal thoughts to a potentially dangerous stranger?  Is she really capable of seeing and communicating with ghosts?  Or is everything a result of her fragmented, grieving mental state?  Even as I write this, I don’t have exact answers to these questions.  This film is a puzzle that I can’t confidently say I had pieced together.

Personal Shopper is the kind of difficult movie that demands to be deeply analyzed.  The story is tough to follow as a whole, and relies on subtexts to be interpreted.  All throughout, it subverts expectations and habitually makes risky, sometimes perplexing narrative shifts.  In essence, the movie can be probably branded as a psychological drama.  But it refuses to be a straight-up ghost or stalker story.  Whenever it arrives at a point where it can do something to put a definite identity to itself, it always takes the middle ground.  There’s a charm to it, but it’s also equally frustrating.
However, plot coherence aside, it’s undeniable that it’s an effectively spooky and intriguing movie.  Director Olivier Assayas masterfully builds suspense and sustains a sense of subtle terror.   And even when the unfocused storytelling should have turned me off, I was ironically entranced, interested on where it’s going.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that I was completely satisfied with its destination.

In the end, Personal Shopper is a mixed bag for me.  Maybe I just didn’t “get it”, but I honestly feel that its positives aren’t enough of a payoff for the strenuous time it asked from me.

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