Movie Review: ‘Personal Shopper’
Starring: Kristen Stewart
Plot: A persona shopper to a celebrity spends her nights trying to commune with the dead in search of her brother’s soul.
Kristen Stewart, ever trying to escape the unflattering shadow of the Twilight series, re-teams with her Clouds of Sils Maria director, Olivier Assayas. Their last project together earned her a prestigious French acting award, the César Award for Best Supporting Actress, and they are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle once more with Personal Shopper.
Stewart portrays Maureen, an American in Paris, working as a personal shopper for a high maintenance celebrity. During the day, she buzzes around Paris on a motorbike picking up lavish attire for her famous employer. At night, she works as a medium trying to make contact with a mystery spirit in a home for sale by her twin brother’s girlfriend. Her twin had died recently due to complications from a heart condition she shares with him, and she hopes the mystery spirit is her brother. Stewart delivers possibly her career best performance here. In a constant state of grief, her depression might be confused for a zombie daze, but she breaks it up with genuine moments of fear and anxiety. Her grasp of restrained feelings is one of the best in the industry. In that way, she makes for a great horror protagonist. She can put the audience at unease with her fear than any macabre tableau Assayas could deliver.
Assayas’ paints with a slightly different shade of “naturalism” than most. Naturalism has normally been achieved by using small talk to add a realistic nuance to characters, while Assayas’ small talk feels over-simplified and almost amateur. It isn’t about displaying nuance but hiding it. All these perception-obsessed yuppie socialites are, by nature, keeping something secret, while Stewart’s “underclassman,” who is forced to rub elbows with them, is as well, just not for the same reasons. It leaves giant gaps in the dialog and plot that is filled in by actor decisions that invite us, the audience, to read between the lines. It is why Stewart and Assayas work so well together, they have similar instincts to sell drama.
It takes a great deal of patience on our part and trust on the director’s, but the final project is quite compelling. It is slightly reminiscent of some of Brian de Palma’s erotic thrillers but with a supernatural edge. That edge is made all the more compelling by its sparring use. It throws the overall tone into confusion, which helps sell the overarching thriller mystery. It makes up for the noir stylishness it is lacking (that a lesser project may have leaned on), thus allowing it to never lose focus on its much more personal and intimate substance.