Personal Shopper (2016) / Drama-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for some language, sexuality, nudity and a bloody violent image
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Nora van Waldstatten, Sigrid Bouaziz, Lars Eidinger, Ty Olwin
Director: Olivier Assayas
Screenplay: Olivier Assayas
Review published April 2, 2017
In Personal Shopper, Kristen Stewart (Cafe Society, Certain Women) collaborates for the second time with writer-director Olivier Assayas (Paris I Love You, Irma Vep) after their successful first venture with The Clouds of Sils Maria, which won Stewart the Cesar award in France for her performance. It's an enigmatic and genre-bending endeavor, treading the line between drama, thriller, mystery and horror, never delving into any particular one to appease genre aficionados, but also refreshingly becoming its own story.
Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, an American artist working in Paris as a personal shopper for an internationally famous model and celebrity named Kyra (Van Waldstatten, World without End), who wants her to purchase the latest in designer clothes and jewelry before they are worn by anyone else. Maureen is unhappy in both her career and location, tempted somewhat by her long-distance boyfriend (Olwin, Last Night in Town), who is currently living in the sultanate of Oman. What she's lingering for is some sign from her recently deceased twin brother, who died of a congenital heart condition that she may also fall susceptible to, utilizing their shared gifts as spiritual mediums to make final contact, as they had made a promise to do to prove their belief in life after death, and begin the process of moving on with her life.
The longer she stays, visiting her brother's old home, which is currently pending sale, for signs, the more she is able to connect with the spiritual side of things, including presences who may or may not be her brother, which makes the random, nosey texts from an unknown source on her cell phone all the more unnerving. Is it her brother from beyond, her lonely boyfriend, a lurid stalker, or a wayward spirit that has attached itself to her?
As a drama with spooky elements, Personal Shopper does tantalize, even though, as a mystery, it's either a bit obvious what's going on in one key fashion, but also a bit confusing in terms of some of the other mysteries at play. Some will find the challenge of the film's various loose threads either delightfully challenging or maddeningly obscure, depending on your expectations of what you're supposed to be getting out of this offbeat film. Even if it isn't always easy to deduce precisely what's happening at all times, it does always hold you with rapt attention, as you try to make sense of out things that, even in life, have to ready explanation. It's hard enough to discern what each component of Maureen's overall story means in and of itself, and even more of a challenge to try to piece how one might relate to the others, if they relate at all.
Featuring a strong performance from Kristen Stewart at its core, the moody, slow-moving, but increasingly tense and absorbing storyline stays credible as a loose-hanging psychological study of a woman trying not to come unhinged despite the challenges that await her in every major facet of her life, confused about what to do, and what, if anything, can make her feel whole again in a world full of solitude. The film ends by answering some questions, then throwing out even more to ponder as the credits roll, making this an interpretational experiment that makes for an occasionally riveting experience with the supernatural but grounded film, even if the meaning of it all seems just beyond the boundaries for the mind to fully grasp.
©2017 Vince Leo