by Hope Madden
Kristin Stewart is an acquired taste. In the last few years, though, she’s shown in a handful of indies that she has some talent. Not a great deal of range, but some definite talent.
That shone most brightly in writer/director Olivier Assayas’s 2014 film Clouds of Sils Maria.
In that film, Stewart played the put-upon personal assistant to a demanding celebrity. Assayas places Stewart in a similar position but with wildly differing themes for his latest, Personal Shopper.
Stewart plays Maureen, an introverted American in Paris. By day, Maureen darts around Paris and even trains to London to pick up fancy-schmancies for her A-lister boss to wear to this red carpet or that fashion show.
By night, though, Maureen wanders the empty rooms of her deceased twin brother Lewis’s old house. Both siblings possessed the gifts of a medium, and Maureen wants to contact Lewis.
It’s a ghost story of sorts, with a bit of a mystery thrown in for good measure, but what Personal Shopper really offers is an exploration of isolation, alienation and identity in the digital age.
Maureen is almost always almost alone. As the film opens, her friend drops her off at Lewis’s old house and Maureen asks, “You’re not staying?”
No, she is not. It’s just Maureen in this old house and her desire to connect with someone.
Likewise, Maureen periodically Skypes with her boyfriend, on some kind of IT assignment halfway across the globe. And she is always just missing the celebrity she shops for. Maureen’s solitary existence is a series of near-connections.
Assayas explores this most fully with an anxiety-inducing texting relationship with an unknown contact – a plot device that attempts to drive the themes and storyline forward. But, as is often the case with this filmmaker, ambiguities and curiosities are more important than closure or action.
Aside from an unfortunate run-in with CGI, the film barely registers as horror and impatient genre fans are likely to be disappointed. But for a lonesome comment on modern times – or for proof that Kristin Stewart can actually act – it’s not bad.