Kristen Stewart’s brilliant performance isn’t enough to save Olivier Assaya’s murky French drama Personal Shopper. Stewart plays a woman who is working as a personal shopper for an obnoxious celebrity, but she really identifies as a medium. She is grieving her twin brother, who died a few months before. He was also a medium, and the two had resolved that the first to die would contact the survivor from Beyond. As Personal Shopper opens, she is walking around her brother’s house and muttering his name without turning on any lights. Does she find him? Does she find something even scarier? Do we care?
Assayas takes Personal Shopper bouncing along between movie genres – from Ghost Story to a moment of Horror, then to Mystery Thriller and finally Ghost Story again. Some critics have credited him with a highly original approach to an exploration of grief. But, no, Personal Shopper is just a mess. Grief has shocked the main character into a malaise, but Personal Shopper keeps changing its focus to her fears and her sexuality. If you want to see a good movie about grief, try Manchester by the Sea, Five Nights in Maine or Rabbit Hole.
Near the beginning of Personal Shopper, there’s some very clumsy exposition – as if a character were reading from the Wikipedia page on spiritualism. The big mystery in Personal Shopper is who is sending her texts, and that question is never resolved. I’m usually OK with ambiguous movie endings, but this would have bothered me if I had cared.
Nonetheless, Kristin Stewart is superb. Stewart seems completely natural when her character feels deep terror, grief or fascination and also when her emotions are stunted or repressed and her affect is blunted. There’s a moment of auto-eroticism that is very, well, erotic. Stewart holds our attention in every scene. She’s so damned watchable that we always want to know what her character is thinking and about to do.
Stewart may be good, but Personal Shopper is not worth 105 minutes of anyone’s life.