If someone were to ask me what I thought of Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper, I might simply call it “interesting.” By no means is this art-house thriller from last year’s Cannes Film Festival a “must-see” for most of the movie going public; it’s more a collection of intriguing pieces and themes. Other filmmakers’ reactions and criticisms on the techniques employed in Personal Shopper would probably be more interesting than the film itself.
But if there’s one thing viewers of Personal Shopper would probably unanimously agree on: Kristen Stewart’s lead performance is magnificent. Once again, she delivers a unique, skillful, and top-notch display of acting only cinema’s best stars can pull off. Director Olivier Assayas goes for a very slow, deliberate pace, with many scenes at the surface have little happening. Nonetheless, the film always remains engaging because Stewart is so fully in character and the audience is fascinated observing her actions on a moment to moment basis. She has barely anything to play off of and yet makes the most out of the very little she has. And while she the wide emotional spectrum, it’s always logically within the character’s personality.
Stewart is a performer made for the screen. The film gets more and more intense as it progresses and thus her performance becomes increasingly more overtly and justifiably emotional. She screams and cries and loses her cool. However, I must mention the first third of the movie is very underplayed. She has that understated charisma and knowing gaze that genre loves, with a natural swagger like the young Alain Delon, Marcello Mastroianni, Franco Nero, or even Elliot Gould. If there’s any filmmaker who wants to make a proper film noir with a woman as the typical lead protagonist, it’s Kristen Stewart.
Her character is bitter, well aware she’s greater than what the people around her see her as. Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, personal shopper who buys high-end fashion apparel for a famous French model. She shops the streets of Paris, hating both her job and the arrogant belittling model that employs her. Why should Maureen’s stature in the world stop standing on the fringes of celebrity buying thousand dollar clothes when she can barely pay her rent? But most other people annoy her, too. She’s very short with people. But that’s also because she can’t have too strong of emotions. She has a heart defect and elevated emotions could provoke a fatal heart attack. We learn her twin brother died recently of the same problem.
Nonetheless, she’s willing to risk achieving elevated emotions to communicate with her deceased brother. It turns out that, apart from being a personal shopper, Maureen is also a medium, a person who can communicate with ghosts. She yearns to contact her brother, going as far as entering a haunted house. I won’t go into much more detail about this as doing so would take away from experiencing the thrills, but let’s just say her plan isn’t as easy as she first thought.
This movie has the most cell phone usage I’ve ever seen in a movie, but handled wisely considering the possibilities. Good ghost stories need something to trap the human victim. The Shining works because the Torrance family is unable to escape the Overlook Hotel because of the snow keeping them in. In this film, the trap is the cell phone like the snow is to The Shining, though handled in a way that’s not at all convoluted or simplistic. It’s kind of admirable and very interesting to watch unfold.
If I ran a movie theater, I’d play Personal Shopper as the latter half of a double-feature paired with A Cure for Wellness, another film dealing with the tragedy of the millennial. Both films deal with people who are overworked and don’t feel appreciated. They who don’t know why they want to be who they want to be. We’re going to be seeing more movies that deal with these themes, and it’s interesting we’re seeing them played in the thriller ghost genre. Perhaps now people are realizing the light of a computer screen isn’t strong enough to shed light on the demons hidden in the dark corners.