I liked the pedigree for this movie. Kristen Stewart is a fine actor ... I thought she was the best thing in On the Road, and I've enjoyed all of her movies I've seen. Olivier Assayas impressed me greatly with Carlos, an epic movie/mini-series, and Summer Hours was also good. None of this really prepared me for Personal Shopper, a low-budget, low-key ghost story that downplays the ghost factor in favor of a study of grief.
Stewart plays an American in Paris whose twin brother has died. Both twins are mediums, and both have a genetic heart problem (which is why the brother died). Assayas offers only limited special effects ... he doesn't seem particularly interested in the supernatural angle. There is a death late in the film that may have supernatural elements, and the ending is less than concrete, so the movie does seem a bit otherworldly. But that feeling of otherness is there to serve to illuminate Stewart's character, and you could argue that pretty much the same movie could be made without any ghosts at all. Or rather, the ghosts are the kind we all have, where people from our past stay in our memories. We're not talking Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Stewart has to carry the film ... I'm hard pressed to remember more than a couple of minutes where she isn't on the screen. She has a way of underplaying that matches well with the movie, and if you aren't paying attention, you might think she's barely acting at all. But she holds our attention throughout, and draws us into her character, which means she's acting up a storm, only without actually acting up a storm. It's a very good performance.
Personal Shopper can be frustrating. Not a lot happens, and when it does, it's just this side of ludicrous. And, as noted, Stewart dominates the screen without doing a Nic Cage, which I suppose might not appeal to fans of excessive acting. The best anecdote that shows the varying ways the film works comes from Cannes. It was booed at its first screening, but after its official showing, it received a 4 1/2 minute standing ovation.
I don't think this is the best Stewart film I've seen ... that's probably Into the Wild. But it's the first film I've seen where she is the star (I've missed the Twilight movies), so it's the best thing I've seen for showcasing her talents. And I would recommend Carlos over Personal Shopper as the best Assayas I've seen. But this movie continues a streak: I've still never seen a movie with Kristen Stewart or a film directed by Olivier Assayas that wasn't at least worth watching. #483 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.