THE STORY – A young American in Paris works as a personal shopper for a celebrity. She seems to have the ability to communicate with spirits, like her recently deceased twin brother. Soon, she starts to receive ambiguous messages from an unknown source.
THE CAST – Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielson Lie, Ty Olin, Hammau Graia, Nora von Walstätten, Benjamin Biglay, Audrey Bonnet & Pascal Rambert
THE TEAM – Olivier Assayas (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 110 Minutes
By Matt N.
“Personal Shopper” represents a genre exercise of sorts for writer/director Olivier Assayas (“Carlos” & “Clouds Of Sils Maria”). A film about isolation, grief, and communication, it plants itself within a “ghost story” that is evocative and deeply profound. While the supernatural may be involved, “Personal Shopper” is a mature and concentrated effort by Assayas to comment on how we deal with grief and how we find it within ourselves to ultimately move on. Kristen Stewart leads the film with a naturalistic performance that, while it may not rank with her best, is still a strong effort from the 26-year-old actress.
After the loss of her twin brother Lewis, Maureen (Kristen Stewart), a medium who acts as a personal shopper by day, moves to Paris where she attempts to re-connect with her brother’s departed spirit in an effort to discover if he is really at peace. Maureen lives an isolated life that she is unsatisfied with, as she picks out clothes and jewelry daily for her employer Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), always wanting to try on the clothes herself just so she can feel like she is someone else. When she begins to receive strange text messages from an unknown source, Maureen begins to unravel.
“Personal Shopper” is a film all about communication. How we communicate and what we choose to communicate to one another. One might be able to look at Olivier Assayas’s work here and make the connection on how the film is personally trying to communicate to us, as it touches deep within our universal fears of the unknown beyond this world. The film presents itself in a realistic manner that is both deeply personal and always at an arm’s distance until it gets to its second and third acts. There we understand through Stewart’s performance and Assayas’s direction and writing what the film is ultimately trying to communicate. It may take awhile to initially get going but once its deeper themes start to settle, you cannot help but be transfixed by them.
While “Personal Shopper” could have easily have been a straight drama on grief, Assayas chose to throw in a few horror genre elements into the mix to give the film a supernatural element to it that is at times fun. A texting exchange between Maureen and an unknown individual is full of tension from the very beginning and almost acts as its own “film within a film.” There are quieter, yet still intense, moments of Maureen traveling through a house, hoping to communicate with the spirit of her deceased brother that are both horrifying and mysterious. When the film does employ a bit go CGI to display spirits beyond this world, that is the one moment that the film loses a bit of steam as it gives way to more conventional horror elements. However, this is redeemed with a haunting bit involving a broken piece of glass later in the film that sent shivers up my spine.
Kristen Stewart carries the film with a bare and haunted performance of loneliness and grief that is at times heartbreaking and always completely empathetic. While “Personal Shopper” may not rank with Olivier Assayas’s best work, it’s still a confident one that will either work its way into your soul or leave you bored and uninterested due to its deliberate pacing. I for one, believe that the pacing helped the film’s themes to resonate more and I am someone who still has not yet made up their mind on whether there is an afterlife or not. One does not need to believe in the afterlife to enjoy this film as it does its best to be as realistic and human as possible. This is where the strength of “Personal Shopper” lies. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it. Or you’ll be like me and fall somewhere in-between.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Kristen Stewart’s chilling and naturalistic performance. The film’s provocative themes.
THE BAD – The tonal shifts and pacing.