Following on from the critical acclaim of his previous feature Clouds of Sils Maria, the French writer and director Olivier Assayas reunites with actress Kristen Stewart for psychological thriller Personal Shopper. Set in Paris’ fashion underworld, Maureen Cartwright (Stewart) scoots around the city in her Vespa, picking up glamorous items of clothing and jewellery for Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), her materialistic model client. She is also a medium, grieving the recent sudden death of her twin brother and awaiting a sign from beyond the grave.
There is a strange tone to the narrative as supernatural horror elements are implemented within a film that does not comply with the style of the genre. The story is very much driven by its central character rather than the plot, and as a character study, it definitely works. Assayas’ directorial male gaze stalks tomboyish Maureen as she explores her forbidden desires, swapping baggy jumpers and cons to try on the most luxurious of outfits. These scenes are quietly alluring but as a heavy-handed hotchpotch modern ghost story takes hold of the film around halfway through, things become rather tedious. One particularly dull sequence is almost painful to watch as Maureen receives a series of teasing text messages from a mystery sender, and they knock cryptic one-liners back and forth for what seemed like an eternity.
Kristen Stewart is well cast in the role of loner Maureen, and gives an interesting performance that shifts and adjusts throughout. She captures a sense of discomfort and fragility as Maureen struggles to move out of a state of mourning, but also carries a coldly businesswomen-like professionalism when working in a job she doesn’t seem suited for or enjoy. Her screen presence is hypnotic in the personal shopper scenes, and I feel as though I could watch her flick through garment rails for hours.
Personal Shopper has a fascinating character study at its abnormal heart, but traps Maureen in a tiresome non-thriller of a tale. It succeeds in giving another showcase to the talent of Kristen Stewart, who moves from strength to strength in what could be described as the anti-twilight of her career, but the paranormal activity is amateurish and mishandled. Olivier Assayas’ filmic foray into the fashion industry looks magnificent in the window display, but in reality its ill-fitting and falls apart in the wash.
See the trailer: