Personal Shopper – A Powerful, Spiritual Grief Drama

Kristen Stewart has always had a reputation of lacking emotion but a series of indie film performances have begun to prove this otherwise. One of these films was the recent drama, Personal Shopper. It recently released near me so I decided to see it and I’m glad I did.

Synopsis:  By day, American in Paris Maureen works as a personal shopper, motor-biking around the city buying up deluxe couture for a jet-setting celebrity client. By night, she attempts to channel the spirits of the dead, hoping to make contact with her recently deceased twin brother. When Maureen begins receiving a series of chilling, increasingly sinister text messages, it seems she may have made contact—but with whom? And what do they want? (Mongrel Media)

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, and Sigrid Bouaziz

Writer: Olivier Assayas

Director: Olivier Assayas

Rating: R

Running Time: 105mins

Trailer: 

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Watching this film surely was a test in patience as its first third goes in multiple directions, following an American woman in Paris named Maureen (Stewart). Once things became clearer, the film improved. The title of the film is Personal Shopper because Maureen is a personal shopper (the title did this film a great disservice in my opinion) for a celebrity client. When she wasn’t working, she was trying to make contact with her deceased twin medium brother named Lewis.

Supernatural elements played a large part in the film as a way to discuss the ideas of grief and loss (similar to The Babadook) although it never went overboard. Maureen had been in Paris as she and her brother shared the same heart condition and they had promised to contact the other once one of them died. While she was waiting for any sign of her brother, she had been growing restless, not getting anything for months.

Maureen was not ready to give up just yet and over that time, she had grown tired of her life and her job with her obsession also taking a toll on her relationship with her boyfriend Gary (Ty Olwin). She was not ready to move on as those around her, including Lewis’ girlfriend Lara (Bouaziz), were trying to convince her otherwise.

Manifestations of spirits were represented using typical horror tropes such as strange sounds or things moving on their own. They don’t seem like much, however, but suspense came from not knowing if she was communicating with Lewis or some other unknown spirit. The rest of Maureen’s life wasn’t nearly as interesting with the saving grace being that you couldn’t help to get the feeling that something was following her around that may be her brother or something or someone completely different.

The most compelling section of the film had to be a back and forth, unsettling, texting sequence between Maureen and some unknown person. Again, this didn’t seem like much on paper but this was an opportunity to continue exploring the supernatural. What started off as fear turned into fascination, looking for answers to her unsatisfying life. While this was definitely uncomfortable to watch at times, Maureen learned more about herself and became empowered as a result thus overcoming her fear of the forbidden which she believed held her back.

The film had a tendency to be a little too subdued for long stretches of time with Stewart making it bearable. Being in the majority of the film, she carries it with her presence alone. A big knock against her is that she was never the best with emotions but that was not the case here. She was excellent to watch here, giving a nuanced, layered performance of a woman dealing with the grief over losing a brother while still dealing with everything else around her. Great camera work through a series of close up shots assisted her performance in capturing her surprising range of emotions and various body language, most notably during the texting sequence. In another actress’ hands, it would probably have gone much differently.

Overall, this was a powerful and suspenseful drama, dealing with loss and grief in a different and sometimes unsettling way, full of haunting spiritual imagery. While it could have gone in a more boring direction, it is elevated by Stewart’s excellent and surprisingly emotional performance.

Score: 9/10

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