Kristen Stewart has become a fearless actor. Shaking off the “Twilight” type-casting required her to take on roles in smaller films and prove her acting mettle. Working here again with the “Clouds of Sils Maria” director Olivier Assayas, Stewart shows that she has nothing to prove.
A light ghost story with dramatic elements, “Personal Shopper” is all about Stewart. She occupies almost every frame, often emoting while texting on her iPhone or communicating through a computer. It is fascinating viewing, as she delivers natural dialogue (credited specifically to Assayas) and demonstrates her character’s inner torment.
In the film, Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, an American living in Paris and working as a personal shopper for a fashion model. Her twin brother has just died of a heart ailment that she may also share. At one point, a doctor warns her to avoid, as I remember it, physical exertion and deep and serious emotions. Is that what they call heartache? I chuckled, but bought it.
Part of the plot has the rail thin and neurotic Maureen attempting to contact her twin, who was a medium, in his old house. The house is for sale and the new owners want to be sure that the spirits have moved on or are not malevolent. Again, this might evoke viewer skepticism, but it is handled maturely and credibly mainly through Stewart playing the character with such conviction.
The twisting and genre blending narrative, written by Assayas, has Maureen performing her duties as a personal shopper and doubling as an amateur medium. She contacts the other side, for sure, but what she thinks might be her brother, might be something else altogether. Smartly Assayas does not linger too long on the ghost story, which he could have exploited mainly for chills. There are unnerving moments to be had, however, but this is hardly a horror entry. Maureen’s capacity as a medium is part of the largely dramatic story arch.
Watching “Shopper” I couldn’t help but think of last year’s divisive “Neon Demon,” which was also set in the world of high fashion. “Shopper” is a smaller and tighter film, shot more humbly and featuring supernatural elements more prominently. But both films have something to say about the superficial nature of that business and the toll it takes on those operating around its fringes. It is against this backdrop that Assayas and Stewart operate.
And the tricky story that the director and the movie star weave never fails to evoke interest. Keeping the viewer off-kilter is masterful as the film reminds one of De Palma at a distance filtered through French master Claude Chabrol. Where lesser films would be accused of misogyny, Assayas gets the tone right and one has to credit Stewart who knows the heart of her character.
“Personal Shopper” is unique and enchanting.