Originally published on CommonSpace.
Personal Shopper has a tumultuous and confusing history. At its premiere for critics, it was met with boos and laughs. A day later, its premiere to general audiences prompted a four-and-a-half-minute standing ovation. Already it’s a puzzle.
Its plot is no simpler. Kristen Stewart’s Maureen is mourning the death of her twin brother. She shares the heart defect that killed him, but she, like him, is not worried about it.
They both promised each other that whoever died first would send the other a message. Her brother was a medium and believed in spirits, but Maureen is slightly more cynical. Laden with grief, she waits for a sign.
She’s also a personal shopper for a socialite and model. She hates the job and who she works for. She’s not allowed to try the clothes on, making her want to do so all the more.
On the surface, it sounds like The Devil Wears Prada crossed with Most Haunted, but there’s a general uneasiness that makes Personal Shopper genuinely scary through empathy and grief.
Maureen is pining for her brother, wandering around in the dark asking if anyone’s there. The familial connection ups the stakes – she wants there to be someone there, so she leans in closer than an average ghost hunter might, becoming all the more vulnerable until a BANG suggests this is no benevolent visitor.
And that’s only part of it. She’s forever leaning in close, as she starts to receive texts from an unknown number and discovers artists who supposedly channelled spirits for inspiration. It’s clutching at strands of hope that are as translucent as ectoplasm. Her vulnerability leaves her open to suggestibility, yes – but what else?
It’s a slowburn story, and by giving us one sign, we always hope for just one more. Is it greed, is it a natural instinct to want more information, or is it a constant distraction so we don’t have to sit still and deal with our grief?
Kristen Stewart is key to this unique film remaining on the right side of challenging and evocative. She is so capable, so captivating, and so committed to Maureen’s life and her sadness.
Her performance and the film act as a guide in coping, or trying to cope, with sorrow. It’s really something.