One of the finest character studies of the last decade occurs in 2016’s “Personal Shopper.” The film stars Academy Award nominee Kristen Stewart in her second collaboration with French director Olivier Assayas. The pair had worked together two years prior for “Clouds of Sils Maria”, a film that earned Stewart the prestigious Cesar award for best supporting actress. She has done some of her best work with the director who provides the space for her to give the subtle and nuanced performances that the actress has mastered.
“Personal Shopper” is a film that masterfully blends style and substance. It is elegantly shot in Paris where orange fall leaves grace the streets. Maureen (Stewart) glides around the city at dusk on her moped which helps build the rich atmosphere. She works as a personal shopper for a supermodel named Kyra. The job includes picking out luxurious clothing and Cartier jewelry to transport to her boss who she describes as a “nightmare”. The outfits are filmed in a way that works as a showcase for high fashion and further builds the expensive world that Maureen enters for work.
Maureen doubles as a psychic which is where the real depth of the film lies. She is reeling from the recent loss of her twin brother, also a medium, and vows to communicate with his spirit. She tries countless times to reach out to him in places he occupied such as his former home. Stewart breathes life into Maureen through a variety of twitchy movements that bring an anxious demeanor to the grieving woman. The result is a highly relatable character and an interesting study on how the mourning of a loved one impacts someone’s day to day life.
Maureen says multiple times that her reason for being in Paris is because she is “waiting”. This entails hanging around the city until she is able to connect spiritually with her brother. It is not a sustainable or healthy way to live given that Maureen is basically at a standstill in life. However, that is part of the complex nature of the situation where there is no right or wrong way to handle grief.
There are long stretches in the second act where very little dialogue occurs and the viewer is watching Maureen interact with her surroundings. She begins to receive invasive text messages from an unknown number that are highly unnerving. It is an interesting wrinkle that gives the audience more information about the character through her responses to the senders probing questions.
The film is quiet and reserved, much like its protagonist. These types of characters are where Stewart is at her best as an actress. Her recent portrayal of Princess Diana in “Spencer” is a culmination of the internalized performances she has been refining for over a decade. Her next role is in David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future.” The film is expected to debut at the Cannes Film Festival at the end of the month.