Review: Personal Shopper
PLOT: A young woman (Kristen Stewart) takes a job as a diva’s personal shopper in order to stay in Paris, where she hopes she’ll be able to communicate with the spirit of her dead twin brother.
REVIEW: It’s clear that director Olivier Assayas has found a major muse in Kristen Stewart. With their previous CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA being one of his most acclaimed recent efforts, it’s no wonder Assayas was keen to build an entire film around her, with PERSONAL SHOPPER entirely a vehicle meant to showcase her talent. It’s worth saying that Stewart, since the end of the TWILIGHT saga, has been impeccable in her choices, demonstrating an incredible range – from the goofy stoner comedy of AMERICAN ULTRA, to the romantic lead of CAFÉ SOCIETY, to the achingly emotional EQUALS, and, of course, Assayas’s work – which netted her a César. She’s the only American actress to have ever won this award.
PERSONAL SHOPPER, which feels like minor Assayas, succeeds mainly due to Stewart’s perfectly modulated performance. In the film, her character is reeling from the death of her twin brother, who we learn suffered from the same congenital heart defect that she does – having dropped dead suddenly. This haunts her – perhaps literally – with her questioning her own mortality and direction, but also being obsessed over whether or not her brother has found peace. Calling herself a medium, she believes he’s trying to communicate with her, and at times she even has paranormal visions. Whether or not these are ghosts is left ambiguous, with it being more of a character study than the art-house horror one might expect from the premise.
What’s surprising is how the paranormal aspect is the least interesting part of the film. PERSONAL SHOPPER is at its best when we follow Stewart around on her bizarre job, picking up designer clothes for her Kardashian-like employer, but also being forced to do menial tasks like update her client’s Mac. It’s an interesting glimpse into a profession that strikes most of us as ridiculous, but is indeed a real thing. The glamor of her client’s home is starkly contrasted with Stewart’s character’s own lower-key nature. A long part of the film revolves around her getting texts from what she thinks may be her brother’s ghost – urging her to try on her employer’s haute-couture items, something she finds distasteful, illustrating the contrast all the more.
The texting aspect winds-up having an interesting pay-off that’s handled in a low-key way, but again, Assayas is making a film wholly to showcase his star – and Stewart is indeed worth the effort. She’s excellent at conveying emotion despite her own exterior reserve, and she gives-off the impression of someone that’s somewhat at war with herself here – being too intellectual to really buy into the idea of an afterlife but also ultimately hopeful this will give her closure.
It doesn’t entirely work as a film, and it can be dull at times, but PERSONAL SHOPPER remains worth watching for Stewart’s performance alone. She’s almost the entire show, with only Lars Eidinger, as her client’s lover, and Sigrid Bouaziz as her brother’s former lover, having prominent parts. In that way, this is almost a one-woman show, but Stewart pulls it off. She has some haters out there – that’s for sure – but one can’t deny that Stewart has always been good (blame the blandness of the role for TWILIGHT – not her performance) and now, she’s becoming great.