Kristen Stewart Is Superb (Again) In ‘Personal Shopper’
Kristen Stewart | Personal Shopper
The Box Office:
IFC will be releasing Personal Shopper in four theaters starting tomorrow. If history is any indication, the $5.6 million-budgeted film (obviously, an acquisition for IFC) will earn rave reviews (check) and very little domestic theatrical box office. In the aftermath of Twilight and Snow White and the Huntsman, Kristen Stewart returned to doing what she was doing before the vampire romance franchise turned her into a tabloid magnet/movie star.
She was one of our most promising emerging indie actresses before Twilight, and she remains as much after Twilight. She has made nine films since Breaking Dawn part II, and they have earned a combined $50 million domestic, with $45m of that coming from Still Alice ($18.75m), American Ultra ($14.44m) and Woody Allen’s Café Society ($11.1m). She is signing up for her first overtly commercial project in a while with Fox’s underwater earthquake thriller Underwater.
It will be interesting since the game has so obviously changed over the last five years, if she has any real drawing power long after the Twilight fan base has moved on and the star system has all but collapsed. Nonetheless, she may just have to settle for being one of the best indie actresses of her generation, with an Oscar win merely a matter of “when” and not “if.”
Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper is both a fascinating study of grief and a surprisingly gripping supernatural thriller. It is a thriller in the Claude Chabrol sense, whereby very little happens but there is a sense of tension and near-dread throughout as we wait for confirmation or a surprise. It’s not a bold concept to note that a ghost story is a metaphor for how our dead loved ones stay with us beyond the grave, as I would argue that’s the metaphor for most ghost stories. But stripped of most of the flash and razzle-dazzle associated with the ghost story/haunted house genre, Personal Shopper becomes something of a subtext-made-text drama.
Oh, and it features another terrific, subdued turn by Kristen Stewart, but you probably already knew that. If it needs to be said at this point, Stewart has been on a roll of late, with a deluge of excellent performances in small-scale indies (Camp X-Ray, Certain Women, Clouds of Sils Maria, etc.) that you probably haven’t seen. Hell, I’ll go one further. I’ll happily defend her work in the Twilight movies as one of the reasons the fantastical romantic drama (and the self-depreciating humor in the first and fifth films) works as well as it does.
Of course, if you’ve seen those movies then you probably don’t need to be reminded of such. I’d like to think we’ve reached a point, at least in the critical community, where proclaiming that Kristen Stewart is a great actress is as transgressive as naming Die Hard as your favorite Christmas movie.
But I digress. Stewart’s Maureen is a… wait for it, personal shopper to a celebrity named Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). She spends her days as a glorified nomad, running errands and forking out obscene amounts of money for clothes and accessories, occasionally trying them on when no one is looking. We enter the story just after a devastating tragedy, and Maureen is still coping with the death of her twin brother. Amid this relatively straightforward drama of grief and modern numbness, we get what amounts to evidence of evidence that Maureen may be literally haunted by her dear, departed twin.
The gimmick is that both Maureen and the late Lewis thought of themselves as mediums, and thus Maureen spends her days at a job she hates waiting for a “sign” from the afterlife. So, when she starts getting mysterious text messages that may be from the great beyond, it’s less a matter of fear than relief and faith confirmed. But then those messages start getting a bit more aggressive and outright hostile, leaving Maureen (who has the same heart condition that killed her brother) in a bind of a supernatural bind.
Beyond that, you don’t need any more plot. Besides, this is a slow burn thriller where there frankly isn’t that much in the way of plot. The film works because of its lead actress and because of the notion of telling a somewhat conventional ghost story (with a somewhat out-of-left-field crime subplot) in the manner of a stereotypical European art film. I will say that there is an extended sequence set aboard a train, primarily involving text messaging, that feels like the next evolution of horror filmmaking via advanced technology. In its own unique way, it’s sure to rank as one of the most thrilling sequences of 2017 despite having very little overt action or incident.
Moreover, in a manner not unlike Signs or Pontypool, the film uses its buttoned-down existence to maximize the effect/impact of what we do hear and see. I was rather surprised at the amount of overt “horror” imagery, so there is indeed at least the potential to see something startling amid the tone poem character study. And yeah, the film really gets under the skin as a study in mourning beyond the genre tropes. It blends several different kinds of movies, some more successfully than others (it’s the second “K-Stew” movie in 12 months with an unnecessary crime subplot), into a mostly satisfying stew(art).
Personal Shopper works on its own specific terms and serves as an interesting counterbalance to the weekend’s big wide release, Kong: Skull Island. They are polar opposite examples of very good movies that represent the extremes of what cinema can provide regarding pure entertainment value. The mega-budget King Kong movie is quite good and provides plenty of thrills. That I was just as entranced watching a young woman sit on a train and receive cryptic text messages is a sign of how compelling Olivier Assayas’s newest drama turned out to be.