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In “Personal Shopper,” Kristen Stewart plays a lonely stylist to the stars. She zips around Paris on her scooter, darting from one high-end boutique to the next for her celebrity client while mourning the sudden death of her twin brother. The film from writer-director Olivier Assayas is a meditation on grief and loss. And, boy, does it cause a lot of suffering. Woe is us, as “Personal Shopper” proves a rare misfire from Assayas, who directed Stewart to a French César Award for their 2015 film “Clouds of Sils Maria.” Lightning doesn’t strike twice.
One problem is that the moody “Personal Shopper” has an identity crisis. It doesn’t know if it’s a ghost story, a cat-and-mouse chiller, a stalker thriller or a girl-on-the-verge drama. It tries to be all those things and the result is as messy as the ectoplasm one specter spews. Sure, it’s intermittently gripping, but too often it’s a total bore, as the expressionless Stewart repeatedly does her head-down, eyes-averted thing.
When Stewart’s Maureen is not shopping at Cartier or Chanel for her famous boss, Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), she’s chasing her brother’s ghost. Yup, Maureen sees dead people. The film opens in typical horror-genre style. Maureen spends the night in her late brother’s dark, dank suburban Paris abode, where the floors creak and things go bump in the night. She’s hoping to contact him from the great beyond. Maureen, an American medium in Paris, is in existential crisis mode. She can’t move on from Lewis’s (also a medium) death until she receives a sign from him. They share the same heart defect that killed him, and the twins made an oath that whoever died first would send the other the all-clear from the afterlife.
Later, Maureen starts to receive unnerving text messages from an unknown sender. Is it Lewis? Her client’s strange boyfriend (Lars Eidinger)? Someone is messing with her mind – and testing our patience. The second half of the film is an endless text exchange. Stewart’s thumbs can really act. The conversation kicks off with an “I know you” and proceeds to “tell me something you find unsettling” and then ends with keys to a hotel room and a dead body. In between, Maureen fulfills the strange requests of the mystery texter, such as trying on her client’s couture, which is forbidden, but signals her desire to be someone else ... or maybe she just likes fancy designer duds.
Stewart, who after catapulting to stardom in the “Twilight” movies, has found a home in indie cinema. For her part, Stewart is charged with keeping the film afloat. She accomplishes that in spite of having limited interactions with her co-stars, who barely register. Sigrid Bouaziz plays Maureen’s sister-in-law. Ty Olwin is the boyfriend Maureen sometimes talks to via Skype. Her client, Kyra, is in two scenes. Kyra’s boyfriend (Eidinger) has a bit more to do. But Stewart’s most dynamic co-star is the mystery texter, whose identity is never revealed – though you can theorize amongst yourselves. Assayas seems to be channeling M. Night Shyamalan right through the ambiguous ending.
— Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
PERSONAL SHOPPER(R for some language, sexuality, nudity and a bloody violent image..) Cast: Kristen Stewart, Nora von Waldstätten, Lars Eidinger, Anders Danielsen Lie, Sigrid Bouaziz.
Movie review: Personal shopper’ a moody film with identity crisis, ambiguous ending
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