Olivier Assayas concocts a heady atmosphere here; Personal Shopper is spooky and cold throughout, thanks in part to its superb sound design (with all those bumps and smashes mysteriously occurring in a grand old mansion) and also thanks to the terrific central performance by Kristen Stewart. Her character, Maureen, seems oddly disconnected from the world; she is a clothes-purchasing assistant to a celebrity – an American in Paris – and we spend close to two hours in her company, but although we discover some things about her life and see interactions with friends, can we honestly say that we ‘know’ her by the end? She is nervy, grieving and in search of her own identity, and she doesn’t give much away. She is also intriguing: can she really communicate with the spirit world, and in particular her recently-deceased brother, who owned the mansion in question?
Personal Shopper is a difficult film to pin down, as it comfortably slips between genres, without much in the way of fuss. It is on the one hand an existential drama largely set within the fashion industry and the celebrity world, though it’s apparent from the off that Assayas wishes to deglamorise fashion, or at least the purchasing of it (if not the actual act of wearing). It’s also a chiller, a genuinely unnerving ghost story that leaves its fantastical phenomena unexplained – we see a wispy spirit and ‘hear’ the same things that Maureen hears, but even by the end it’s unclear whether we’re supposed to believe in these interactions or judge Stewart’s character as someone who is coming apart at the seams. The standout moments involve her text exchanges with an unknown person, which she believes is a spirit of some kind; as Peter Bradshaw rightly pointed out in the Guardian, one of these – in which a flurry of texts arrive after a phone is switched on – is the kind of thrilling coup de grace that Hitchcock would have been proud of, and genuinely made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, while the whole Eurostar section, when Maureen is first contacted, is surprisingly gripping given that we’re mostly watching someone send, receive and read text messages on a train. This is worth seeing simply on account of the superb central performance, but it’s well worth your time if you enjoy filling in the gaps around the edges of a story, and it’s another smart, intriguing film from this talented director. (****½)
A Ghostbusters remake by Paul Feig with women in roles once populated by men exists; there are lots of nasty, misogynistic and/or racist pricks on the internet; and, in 2016, these streams crossed. It has been quite sobering to see all of this play out – just look at the disgusting abuse meted out to one of the film’s stars this week on Twitter – and indeed quite disheartening to see so many grown men whimpering about their childhoods being ‘destroyed’ (before directing their ire towards those involved with this 2016 production). It’s a shame, too, that Ghostbusters simply isn’t the ‘fuck you’ response that the more extreme online trolls deserve, and is merely the latest in this year’s ever-growing list of average or poor summer blockbusters. Yet thankfully there are a couple of saving graces: most notably Kate McKinnon, who manages to rise above the otherwise pedestrian script with an idiosyncratic, offbeat performance as Ghostbuster Holtzmann, while Chris Hemsworth’s turn as a dumb, beefcake receptionist is funny, even though his character’s stupidity is eventually overplayed.
One gets the impression that Feig and co-writer Katie Dippold were never quite confident enough to let their movie stand on its own two feet, as there’s far too much in the way of homage to the original 1984 film here, often obstructing the flow of this new story; it’s little more than time wasted when other material has evidently been cut out, though obviously one can only speculate as to the quality of any footage that has been removed, and indeed whether or not its inclusion would have plugged a few of the evident narrative spasms. There are moments where the 2016 incarnation of Ghostbusters skillfully rejects the old in favour of the new (a nice joke about them not being able to afford the rent on the fire station that served the original foursome so well, for example), yet the way Feig has shoehorned familiar old ghosts such as Slimer and Mr. Stay-Puft into the mix smacks of desperation, especially as it shows up the lack of imagination in terms of the design of the new CGI ghosts, not one of which is remotely memorable. (Though, y’know, maybe kids like them; this is a film for kids, after all.) Additionally, the screenplay makes an unnecessary fuss over the name ‘Ghostbusters’ and its accompanying symbol – I presume this is intended to make your spine tingle – and although I thought the tribute to the late Harold Ramis worked well, some of the cameos by stars of the earlier film offer little in the way of chuckles. I hadn’t seen Leslie Jones or McKinnon in anything before this, and I like them both, but Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy have been far better, and Feig has made funnier films.
Directed by: Paul Feig.
Written by: Paul Feig, Katie Dippold.
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Chris Hemsworth, Michael Kenneth Williams, Charles Dance, Andy García, Neil Casey.
Cinematography: Robert Yeoman.
Editing: Melissa Bretherton, Brent White.
Music: Theodore Shapiro.
Running Time: 116.