Starring Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Nora von Waldstätten, Ty Olwin
Olivier Assayas’s follow-up to Clouds of Sils Maria begins like any formulaic horror movie; Young girl in a dark, secluded, old house by herself. Personal Shopper is anything but formulaic as Assayas reteams with Stewart juggling narratives in this genre bending thriller/drama/horror film. Stewart is fascinating to watch, as always, whether cursing on SNL, breaking hearts in Twilight or those heated exchanges with paparazzi. The interest in watching her interact with the world around her is the true focus of Personal Shopper. In fact, Assayas admits this screenplay and story wouldn’t even exist if he hadn’t met and worked with Stewart previously. If you don’t find Stewart, the only American actress to win a César Award, interesting this problematic film will drive you crazy.
Following the death of her twin brother, Maureen Cartwright (Stewart) spends her free time sitting alone in their childhood home trying to contact him from beyond. Among other things, Maureen is a medium, just like her brother Lewis. They had a pact, whoever died first would make contact with the other. She has been waiting 90 days, and cannot move on with her life until she feels something. Her daytime hours are spent shopping and picking up expensive clothing and jewelry for Kyra (Waldstätten), a rich and high profile European celebrity. She hates her job and wants to be with her boyfriend who is doing work on the coast of Oman, but cannot leave until her “waiting” is finished.
The entire script teases the audience with more interesting subject matter than it’s willing to offer.
Assayas finds the celebrity world fascinating as Personal Shopper dives back into the familiar world he presented in Clouds of Sils Maria. With all the elements presented in his script, the most interesting part of Maureen isn’t her ability to connect with the dead, but her job as the shopper. A large chunk of the film has Maureen interacting with a stalker via her i-Phone. Stewart manages to keep this section of the plot interesting, despite having no dialogue and the audience simply watching her fret over text messages on trains or in hotel rooms. Personal Shopper won’t please the scary movie genre audiences because it just isn’t that type of film, despite a couple of quasi frightening scenes. Neither will it please The Devil Wears Prada followers either.
While the mixed genres give mixed feelings, Personal Shopper isn’t satisfying or even original. The stalker element is a little too predictable and the visual effects used to represent the ghosts are very early 90’s Ghostbusters looking. The entire script teases the audience with more interesting subject matter than it’s willing to offer. Stewart is the film’s saving grace, bearing more of herself in this role than audiences are used to. Her character here isn’t a stretch from the PA she played alongside Juliette Binoche in ‘Sils Maria’, but that film had a narrative that worked and felt complete. Personal Shopper was booed at Cannes, and likely will receive a cool reception from American audiences.
Stewart is endlessly fascinating to watch, but the film can’t successfully maneuver in and out of genres so well.