At first glance Personal Shopper is a bit of a tonal mishmash, as we follow Kristen Stewart’s character Maureen through encounters in Paris both mundane and supernatural. It’s a character study that doubles as a ghost story, a fable about wealth, a pulp thriller, and involves a lot of scenes focused on text messaging. But primarily it’s about grieving for a loved one, and the ways that grief can manifest itself.
Maureen has recently lost a twin brother, and his presence looms over the story, growing larger as the film heads into its charged second half. Scenes that are initially unthreatening begin to gather a sense of dread, and Maureen starts to become unhinged.
Stewart is fantastic as Personal Shopper’s unreliable point of view. At first she’s an enigma, coasting in a comfy, unsatisfying job, but a series of paranormal encounters and increasingly threatening text messages start to strain her calm appearance. Maureen is, after all, still suffering from a huge loss, and possibly not all that sane. Or is she? That’s the tightrope being walked, and it works because Stewart and her director Olivier Assayas work to keep each moment grounded.
Assayas also has the task of managing all the film’s various threads, and for the most part he does (he shared the Best Director award at Cannes). The denouement is frustratingly on the nose, but everything leading up to it is superbly crafted, naturalistic and by turns claustrophobic. Personal Shopper may prove too obtuse for some viewers, but its various elements form a mostly satisfying whole.