We are long past the days of being surprised when Kristen Stewart gives a great performance in a movie. I do wonder what her career would look like without the Twilight movies, though. If she was still the actor who did Panic Room and Zathura – just not the Twilight movies – I suspect she’d be making the same kind of movies we see her in today. She doesn’t seem like someone who is that interested in huge studio movies. Without Twilight, the only two differences would be a) the whole “I’m shocked she’s good,” 2012 – 2014 phase of her career and b) she’d probably have a lot less paparazzi attention.
But with Personal Shopper – which premiered at Cannes and just had its New York Film Festival debut – she does something I’ve never seen her do before: She singlehandedly turns a movie that probably should have been dreadful into something that can be described as “good.” I mean, seriously, she saved this movie. Oh, let me explain:
Before we even get to the plot, let it be known that the second act of Personal Shopper is almost entirely a series of text messages. If you’ve ever thought, I love getting text messages so much I wish I could watch someone get text messages in a movie, then you will love Personal Shopper. For the other 99 percent of us, it’s annoying. And goes on and on and on. Plus, Kristen Stewart’s character, Maureen, has the “keyboard clicks” feature on – while she’s traveling on what appears to be the quiet car of a train. (If there were ever a moment I lost sympathy for her character, it was right here.)
I found myself getting actively annoyed during a movie I was enjoying until that point. And director Olivier Assayas (who directed Stewart in the wonderful Clouds of Sils Maria) just keeps coming back to those texts. It just keeps on happening. It was kind of like airplane turbulence in the middle of a flight. Basically, if you can make it through the rough part, it doesn’t come back. But, boy, that rough part does last for a good while.
Now, I’m going to explain the plot. And I already know it will sound ridiculous, but I will remind you that Stewart keeps this all together. Maureen (Stewart) lives in Paris and is a personal shopper for a famous socialite. She doesn’t particularly like this type of work. In her spare time, she tries to conjure the spirit of her dead twin brother, Lewis. This interests her a lot. Both Maureen and Lewis were born with heart defects they were told were not life threatening, but that’s before Lewis died of a heart attack. The two made a pact that whoever died first would send the other a sign that the afterlife exists. And when the movie isn’t busy with all the text message nonsense, it’s actually pretty scary. Maybe “scary” is a strong word, but it’s certainly eerie. And the eeriness made me feel scared. So, hence: “scary.”
So, yes, part of the movie we watch Maureen shop for clothes and jewelry, and then we will watch her running around her brother’s old house being chased by a literal ghost that’s not her brother. There is a CGI ghost in Person Shopper. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting that. This surprised me! This is a weird movie!
On a train ride to London is when the texting starts. It’s from a stranger. She doesn’t know if it’s a prank or if it’s from her dead brother. The texts get so overwhelming for her (and annoying for the audience) that she dramatically puts her phone into airplane mode. (This is when I realized that it probably wasn’t a ghost texting her. If a ghost could use his supernatural forces to conjure a text message, I’m not sure airplane mode would ward off the supernatural texts. Then again, who really knows how text messaging works in the afterlife? Do ghouls get unlimited data?)
Anyway, it’s remarkable that Stewart still, somehow, got this all to work. She’s been in better movies, but this might be her greatest acting achievement: Making Personal Shopper watchable.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.