Let’s get this out of the way: Kristen Stewart is an amazing actress. Judging her by Twilight and its sequels means ignoring how much worse the films would be with a lesser actress in that role. Watching her post-Twilight career makes for one of the more fascinating career arcs in recent memory. While she could have gone for other blockbusters (and she did, briefly), she’s made a mark in smaller indie films, where she’s even managed to become the first American actor to win a Cesar. That win came for Clouds of Sils Maria, in which she played an assistant to an older movie star played by Juliette Binoche. With Personal Shopper, she reteams with that film’s director, Olivier Assayas, as another assistant to someone with a high profile, but she’s the lead this time. What’s more, she spends most of her time on screen alone, and she’s brilliant.
Maureen (Stewart) is a medium who’s moved to Paris in an attempt to reconnect to her twin brother, who recently died from a rare heart complication (that she also has) in an old gothic house. His widow (Sigrid Bouaziz) has asked her to do this, and Maureen agrees in part because the twins agreed to reach out to whichever of them died first. When Maureen isn’t dealing with interactions with what appears to be the wrong ghost at the house at night, she works as a personal shopper for a high-profile socialite and model. Her client prefers to leave voicemails and notes for Maureen, though, making sure she never has to interact with Maureen face to face. The only reason we know the boss exists is that we meet her once, for a brief moment.
Maureen becomes convinced that she’s awoken a malevolent spirit in the house, instead of her brother’s. She begins to receive texts from an unknown person. Between the isolated messages she receives from her boss, the hours she spends waiting for contact with a ghost, and the occasional Skype sessions she has with her boyfriend (Ty Olwin), who’s working in Oman, there’s little real interaction she has in her life, so Maureen has more communication with the anonymous person texting her and probing her for information than with anyone else. Those texts push Maureen to take some risks with her boss, by wearing her clothes occasionally, or sleeping in her apartment when she knows her boss won’t be there.
Personal Shopper is a ghost movie, in several different ways. There’s the obvious presence of ghosts, of course, but there’s also a more literal version of it in the way Maureen’s employer isn’t around. The way Maureen “becomes” her employer when she wears her clothes and sleeps in her apartment is in and of itself a form of ghosting. Even the mysterious texter is, as far as Maureen knows, a ghost.
I won’t say much about the film’s ending, but it is one that required some time for me to think about it. The film doesn’t set out to answer every question it raises, intentionally. As much as Personal Shopper is a film about ghosts, it’s also about communication, and the way we try to twist it to get the answers we want or need. That comes through with Maureen’s actions, which are clearly influenced by her own inability to contact her brother, in spite of her promise to do just that. It’s a thought-provoking premise, one that works due to Stewart’s committed performance.
Personal Shopper • Rating: R (for some language, sexuality, nudity and a bloody violent image) • Runtime: 105 minutes • Genre: Drama • Cast: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Hammou Graïa, Nora von Waldstatten, Benjamin Biolay,Audrey Bonnet • Director: Olivier Assayas • Writers: Olivier Assayas, Christelle Meaux • Distributor: IFC