Director: Olivier Assayas
Rating: R (for some language, sexuality, nudity and a bloody violent image.)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Date: March 10, 2017
CG Cinema, Vortex Sutra, Sirena Film, Detailfilm, Arte France and IFC Films.
Written by: Olivier Assayas.
Sitting in a French fashion celebrity’s apartment, a jilted boyfriend named Ingo (Lars Eidinger) asks his now ex-girlfriend’s personal shopper, a 20-something American woman named Maureen (Kristen Stewart), what she is doing in Paris. After a downturned smile, she steadies her gaze and simply replies, “Waiting.”
In writer/director Olivier Assayas‘ new film Personal Shopper, Stewart’s Maureen is a woman who lives her life by and through everyone she encounters. She is also perpetually stuck – between reality and fantasy, life and death, the comforts of home and a foreign country, and a lot of everything else in between.
In their second teaming together, following 2015’s Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart and Assayas craft one unnerving and intriguing story about a woman three months removed from the sudden death of her twin brother. His death, by heart attack, occurred from a malformation of the heart, a condition Maureen also suffers from. She has stayed in Paris since his passing, occasionally Skypeing with boyfriend Gary (Ty Olwin), the duo separated as he is doing IT work in Oman for a few months.
Her days are largely centered around working as a personal buyer and shopper for a fashionista named Kyra (Nora Van Waldstätten). But she also is a medium, as was her brother. Together, they made a pact: whoever dies first will send a message to the other from the other side. Now Maureen is waiting…in more ways than one.
Built on the able back and shoulders of Stewart, Personal Shopper is one of those indie, European-bathed dramas that seems to not really be about much of anything at all. And that’s it’s hook, because there are a wealth of concepts and ideas being discussed by Assayas here, and Stewart churns through them effortlessly.
Gone are the days of Stewart’s Bella Swan in The Twilight Saga. Under Assayas’ guidance, Stewart flat out owns this movie, appearing in every scene, balancing grief with cynicism, fear with trepidation. Her performance is real, honest, and exceptional to watch and while Personal Shopper is a hard film to categorize, playing as part drama, part thriller, part supernatural horror, and part Lynchian-melodrama, she centers us. And somehow, Kristen Stewart quietly has become on of the finest working actors in show business today.
Maureen despises Kyra and tries to remain close with her brother’s girlfriend Lana (Sigrid Bouaziz). Connections are difficult, so she often doesn’t bother. She travels via motorcycle from high dollar store to high dollar store and buys whatever her boss wants. She gets paid by envelopes of money, and when Maureen needs to actually speak to her boss, she’s too busy – arguing with a lawyer and agent about her next big ad campaign.
Disaffected would be one way to describe her, but Maureen is really just scuffling from one thing to the next. She constantly tries to stay grounded in reality but lives in fantasy more than she realizes. She becomes obsessed with the art of Swedish painter and mystic Hilma af Klint and French author and spiritualist Victor Hugo. She purchases clothes for unthinkable amounts of money while wearing sweaters, jeans, and high tops. As a medium, she conducts seances and in trying to communicate with her brother, may have conjured up something unexpected.
Assayas is looking at life and death in multiple ways here and yet, he intuitively finds a way to tap into Millennial ennui with frightening insight. In one long, extended sequence Maureen starts receiving texts from an unknown individual, who may or may not be real and may or may not be following her. He initially draws out her rage, than her passive-aggressiveness, then she relents and tries to have a conversation as she attempts to figure out who she is really talking to.
In Personal Shopper, we might get our answer to some of what is happening here, but it feels hollow and inaccurate. And Maureen seemingly agrees. Her view of the world is stained by heartbreak and an inability to move forward, despite constantly pinballing from one scenario to the next. Stewart guides us throughout the film, one built around loneliness, dissatisfaction, and unquenchable curiosity.
Personal Shopper is not going to be a movie for most mainstream moviegoers, the scope is never clearly defined and the concepts too ambiguous to wholly embrace. However, Stewart convinces us to stay with it, too keep investigating, but mostly to just keep living. She embodies the angst-ridden Millennial as a shopper in their own right – trying different things on, pushing back against the rules, hedging bets on the improbable, and finding a way to stay connected and get through each and every day.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Kristen Stewart people. Say it with me: Kristen. Stewart.
- Personal Shopper is an intriguing film that does not play well with conventions and lives in the messiness of a life lived in a place foreign to someone.
- Definitely a movie that engaged patrons of will want to discuss and break down for a good, long time after considering its strange and unique elements.
- This is not a movie mainstream audiences will likely get or have the patience for. Things are uncertain, some things not explained, and the various inroads into elements of Maureen’s life, some which impact the film and others which don’t, could alienate some viewers.
- There are extended sequences where Maureen is texting with a stranger she does not think she knows. This reoccurs frequently in the film and yeah, people might kinda hate that after all, huh?
- Detractors have written that the film has no focus and just meanders around without a thematic place to call home. The movie largely felt right to me, even with its occasional walkabouts, but this could be a prevailing view.