Spoiler Alert Sunday :: her thoughts on Personal Shopper

27 Mar

(We both saw this one. Her feelings are just more coherent.)

I (drift partner) can’t objectively review this movie because Kristen Stewart is near and dear to my heart and I love her and I will watch her in literally anything, except that Woody Allen movie because fuck that guy. I have gotten into fights with good friends because they said Kristen’s acting sucks (don’t worry, we’re still friends). I have a shortlist of movies to shove at people who claim she never emotes in movies (Clouds of Sils Maria, The Runaways and American Ultra). I went to a midnight screening of Snow White and the Huntsman. I adore her and I have for years.

The thing is, she’s made a lot of movies with people who just don’t get her. She’s not a bad actress, but she is subtle, and that’s not always something that directors know how to work with. Snow White is actually a really good example here – that movie’s not great, and people have complained that she’s too stoic in it. I don’t think she is at all, but I do think that she’s excellent at microexpressions and that her performances are atypical for most Hollywood actresses. Olivier Assayas gets her. He directed her in Clouds of Sils Maria in 2014, a drama for which she won the César Award for Best Supporting Actress. And then they teamed up again for Personal Shopper, which is a psychological horror/drama. Personally, I think she should just keep making movies with this guy, sort of like Jennifer Lawrence and David O. Russell (except Russell and Lawrence aren’t as good a team as people seem to think they are, in my opinion). I’ll go see every single one of them.

Personal Shopper is not as coherent or as good as Clouds, but you can tell that it was made by the same person. Parts of it have a very similar almost dreamlike feel to them, and there are similar themes (death and what to do after a loved one dies, dissatisfaction with one’s life, risk-taking and fear of change). The film centers around Maureen (Kristen Stewart), who is reeling from the recent sudden death of her twin brother Lewis. She takes a job in Paris, where he lived, working as a personal shopper for a model and attempting to contact his spirit. He was a medium, and she is too, albeit slightly less naturally gifted than him. They swore that whichever of them died would send the other a sign from the afterlife, so she’s spent several months waiting for that sign.

I think the main problem with this movie is that the tone switches are pretty jarring. The quiet dramatic scenes where she talks with others about her brother and her life are intimate and well-acted, if sometimes a bit redundant. The scenes where she texts back and forth with a mysterious unknown number are the most unnerving parts of the movie, while the single scene with an onscreen ghost is more goofy than actually frightening. (The CGI ghost is really iffy, but I imagine the relatively small budget made it impossible to get it any better and I have seen worse.) I think the movie works a lot better when it’s not actively admitting to the existence of ghosts or spirits, and I would’ve preferred a more concrete answer about whether or not ghosts actually exist. About two-thirds of the way through there’s a grisly murder scene that’s potentially implied to have been caused by Maureen’s mysterious texting stalker, and though we are given an explanation for that murder, we aren’t quite told whether the murderer and the stalker are one and the same. There are two or three confusing scenes that have Maureen (and no one else) observing paranormal activity, but then out of left field comes a shot of nobody coming out of a hotel elevator, nobody opening the automatic lobby door, and nobody leaving the hotel and going outside. Immediately after those shots are identical shots with the murderer. I still have no idea if the film was meant to be implying that the ghosts were all in Maureen’s head, or if they were real and the ghost called the police to arrest the murderer, or what. It is the first time that we, the audience, see paranormal activity not linked to Maureen’s presence. I’m not sure what to make of that.

But also, as I said, it’s impossible for me to be objective about this movie because I love Kristen Stewart and French directing apparently really agrees with her acting skills. She’s incredible in this film: her microexpressions are on full display, and when she does need to show emotion she brings a rawness to it that I think surpasses any of the other performances of hers I’ve seen. The camera also loves her – there are long, lingering shots of her face and body, but which never feel exploitative. Actually, considering there are multiple topless shots and one scene where she masturbates, this movie is surprisingly free of the male gaze or of exploitation. These scenes, which in another movie could have felt egregious, are matter-of-fact and, in the case of the masturbation scene, defiant.

It’s a strange little movie, and I see why it’s not going over well with a lot of audiences. But the parts I liked outweigh the parts I have issues with, and I’m really glad I got the chance to see it in a theater.



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