Published Mar 20, 2017At the heart of Personal Shopper is a ghost story, though long stretches pass without anything you could interpret as supernatural.
Kristen Stewart's Maureen is caught in Paris, waiting for a call and a calling. Her twin brother was a medium before he passed away from a malformation she shares. (The doctor's orders are to avoid physical effort and intense emotions for the rest of her life, making her something of a ghost in her own life.) Through everything — every person or spirit she might encounter — it's him that she's hanging around for, to see if he'll reach out from the next life.
In the meantime, she's caught up with the mundanities of a 21st century existence. She's the personal shopper for a star who, in the film, is seen as much in Google Image Searches as she is in person. Maureen is adjacent to a high fashion world, visiting designers where they work and assessing their wares, but isn't fully a part of it. Her brother's calling was to reach out to a world of spirits; Maureen is stuck picking out clothes and accessories and dropping them off in a lonely apartment, day-to-day drudgery.
When she's not subject to the whims of her employer or trying to commune with spirits herself, she's living a kind of technological drifter's life, Skyping with her partner and browsing the net on her phone. Stewart has a natural ease in these scenes that's expressive and engaging.
Early on, someone suggests that Maureen look into an artist connected to spiritualism. After watching a YouTube video on the artist and ordering a book on the same subject, she starts receiving texts from an unknown source who won't identify themselves. Could it be the sign she demanded from her brother? Someone else entirely? As they go back and forth, Maureen carries on about her day, never looking like she's doing anything more than just checking her phone, and yet these scenes are more emotionally charged than any set in an abandoned haunted house.
Stewart is so wholly the focus of this film that she should share much of the credit with Olivier Assayas, the writer and director of this and one of Stewart's other great successes of the past few years, Clouds of Sils Maria. Personal Shopper depends on the rhythms of everyday life — without them, this would feel like a more conventional tale of the supernatural — and it succeeds via Stewart's ability to convey a person caught mid-transition, from one life to another. There is, her character suggests, an easy give and take between this life and the next, and that feeling makes Personal Shopper a success. (Mongrel Media)