I’ve remarked in past reviews (namely my review of Manchester By The Sea) about how each of us grapples with the loss of loved ones in profoundly different ways. This also extends to how long each person copes with the passing of people near and dear to them. Some people can manage to filter all those emotions in a rapid manner and manage to go through the process of accepting this major quietus that has disrupted their lives, others take a much longer time to come to terms with this kind of event. No one ever fully overcomes the death of a loved one but it obviously varies in countless ways in terms of how long it can take people to return to a state of normalcy after these kinds of passings. For the protagonist of Personal Shopper, well, she may never be able to fully get over the death of a loved one that’s causing her so much pain.
The death of her brother Lewis has most certainly left Maureen Cartwright (Kristen Stewart) shaken and its a feeling she just can’t get over, even as her job as a personal shopper (someone who runs important errands for the rich & famous) for a high-profile celebrity keeps her busy. Maureen, like Lewis, can work as a medium, an individual who can communicate with the undead, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she’s using her undead-centric powers to try to speak to her now deceased brother. In her attempts to talk to the ghost of her brother, she ends up becoming pestered by someone that leaves her with some questions. Namely, is this individual alive or dead…and is this individual out to help her or harm her?
Personal Shopper is very much a small-scale intimate drama but it’s also one that actually goes all the way in its depictions of ghosts and the supernatural. Early on, we get to see a nasty looking ghost frighten Maureen during one of her attempts to contact her brother and the ghost doesn’t just stand around, no no, it vomits up some green goo before vanishing into the ether. Having an appearance by that kind of creation early on immediately establishes that there can be some more heightened elements in the world of Personal Shopper, which adds a sense of unpredictability to the movies thrills that is, thankfully, never utilized to just shoehorn in overly contrived plot turns.
Instead, the more dicey nature of the world Maureen inhabits is utilized to both create memorable scares and examine just how much of a whirlwind the lead character’s world has become. So much of her life is out of her control, from her brother being taken from her to her being born with a fatal disease to her own job that requires her to be at the whims and mercies of whatever new piece of jewelry or apparel her pampered employer requires today. Giving her the ability to communicate with the undead and having that ability not always work out properly for her fits snugly into this prevailing theme of the story.
Kristen Stewart once again proves herself to be quite the adept actor portraying this rudderless character. I appreciate just how well she does at inhabiting the part of a more emotionally distant “straight-to-the-point” type person without it coming off as some sort of stylized caricature of such individuals who not only exist but we all (including myself) have interacted with in multiples points in our lives. Without ever saying anything, Stewart is able to convey so much about how the monotony of her job and the missing presence of her brother in her life are affecting her on a routine basis, you become absorbed by this character just by the impressive quietly tragic physicality Stewart brings to the role. Major points to the wardrobe department who picked out the outfits Maureen wears throughout the story, an oversized jacket she dons early on in the movie felt extremely authentic to the fashion choices I’ve seen people with this type of personality make in the real world.
There’s plenty of tragedy in Personal Shopper, both tragic and subdued, but there’s also plenty of thrills that show a remarkable level of invention. Best of these is an extended sequence where Maureen begins to receive text messages from an unknown figure. The little symbol that pops up in the iMessage app that signifies the other person in your text conversation is typing up a response has never been as ominous as it is in this extended sequence of Personal Shopper! It’s so fun how Personal Shopper utilizes modern technology in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s cloying or angling to be “hip” but rather uses such present-day innovations as unique opportunities to drum up character-based suspense.
I do wish Oliver Assayas script (this guy is also the director of this project) fleshed out a few of the supporting characters and I couldn’t help but feel the movie might have ended on a stronger note had it concluded a few minutes earlier (people who have seen the movie will likely know exactly what moment I feel it should have ended on!). But overall, Oliver Assayas as crafted a memorable take on both ghosts and the concept of coping with loss that shows some real boldness, inventiveness and yet another top-notch performance from Kristen Stewart. Like encountering some spooky spectre, Personal Shopper is quite the memorable experience!