(WARNING: The following post contains possible spoilers for Personal Shopper)
The Twilight franchise may have made #KristenStewart one of the highest paid A-list actresses on the planet, but it's her recent work with acclaimed French director #OlivierAssayas that is finally confirming her as one of the most intriguing actresses of her generation.
Their 2014 collaboration, Clouds of Sils Maria, saw Stewart becoming the first American actress to win a Cesar in France for her supporting role as a personal assistant to an aging actress played by Juliette Binoche. Now, in Assayas's latest, the arty, supernatural, psycho-thriller Personal Shopper, Stewart not only proves that she can shoulder an entire film on her own, but can do it brilliantly too. In fact, the film has garnered her some of her some best reviews to date, even being celebrated as "the most interesting actress of her generation" by Empire's Olly Richards.
So, What Is Stewart's Latest Triumph About?
#PersonalShopper tells the story of Maureen (played by Stewart), a young American who works as a personal shopper for a diva-ish socialite/supermodel named Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). Trusted with large sums of spending money and the key to a private apartment, Maureen's main job is to jaunt around Paris and London, picking up designer clothes and luxurious accessories for her boss to wear at high-profile events.
Life in high fashion and fame isn't all hunky-dory for Maureen, who is also a medium that communes with the dead. Haunted by her twin brother's death as a result of a heart condition that she shares, the emotionally troubled woman is unable to move on with her life until she can get a sign from her late sibling that he's at peace "on the other side."
French helmer Assayas has an impressive resume, with credits including Paris, je t'aime (2006), Irma Vep (1996) and the acclaimed TV series, Carlos (2010), to name but just a few. Personal Shopper, however, is a mixed bag. It is highly entertaining yet confusing at the same time. As a mystery-thriller, it does instill much edge-of-your-seat tension, only to end in obvious conclusions. As a ghost story, it offers sequences that are genuinely creepy to scary gimmicks that are more B-movie shtick. Not to mention leaving us with a curious and rather disturbing ending that offers up more questions that need to be answered. Yet, despite its shortcomings, Personal Shopper is still captivating in its unique quirkiness, intense atmosphere, and, most of all, the standout performance of its leading lady.
A Magnetic Star Turn
Frequently accused of having "no range," Stewart — who came into prominence at age 10 with 2002's Panic Room — has usually impressed in supporting roles for indie films such as On The Road, Still Alice and Clouds of Sils Maria. The 27-year-old, though, often seem uncomfortable in films where she has a leading role such as Equals, Snow White And The Huntsman, and — dare we say it — the #Twilight series.
In Personal Shopper however, the actress appears in practically every frame and displays a range of emotions that runs effortlessly and fluidly from distraught pain and fear, to unresolved despair and grief. It is easily her career-best performance.
From the start of the film where we see an obviously disturbed Maureen trying to communicate with her dead brother in the gloomy Parisian mansion that they grew up in, Assayas filmed Stewart mostly in shadows and low light, and yet audiences are able to sense Maureen's fears and doubts by the mere trembling that Stewart projects in her voice and body movements.
Many of Stewart's scenes were also done without dialogue. Take for instance, an integral scene on the Eurostar Maureen takes on route to London. Receiving disturbing-turned-sinister text messages from an unknown caller (Is it a stalker? Is it her dead brother texting from the grave?), what could have been a boring sequence of modern-day communication is turned into a believable suspenseful situation thanks to Stewart's masterful way of bringing a bag of emotions to the mundane ritual of text messaging. In fact, most of the time, all you can see here are close-ups of her anguished face or her twitching hands texting furiously away.
One of the film's most mesmerizing moments came towards the end. Throughout the film, Maureen is often seen in casual tops, sweaters and jeans — a far cry from the glamour fashion world that she is in contact with. Add to that Kyra's explicit instructions that Maureen never try on any of the clothes or accessories that have been picked out for her.
However, alone in the prima donna's apartment one night when she was away, Maureen casually undresses and puts on a scintillating outfit that she has chosen for Kyra. As Marlene Dietrich softly sings a sultry song in the background, Maureen slowly transforms from an insecure spirit into a self-assured woman who is consciously unaware of her own sexuality. The Twilight star is seldom regarded as sexy, but in that one magnetic sequence it was plain to see just why luxury brands like Chanel are lining up to dress her up in their garb.
Even through Personal Shopper was booed at a press screening in Cannes last year, Olivier Assayas still walked away with the Best Director award, and the film has garnered Stewart some of her best reviews to date. Here's a few:
From The Wrap's Nigel M Smith at Cannes 2016:
From The Guardian's Wendy Ide:
Kristen Stewart delivers her best performance to date in Olivier Assayas’ flawed but fascinating supernatural drama.
New York Times' A.O. Scoot said:
Kristen Stewart Is entrancing as a haunted ‘Personal Shopper’.
While Robbie Collin of The Telegraph purred:
Pricklishly sexy Kristen Stewart transfixes in a nerve-jangling ghost mystery.
Becoming The French Director's Muse
With two critical hits under their belts, it is funny to think that Stewart and Assayas almost didn't get to work together. Assayas revealed that he offered Stewart the role of Valentine in Clouds of Sils Maria after they met, but due to a miscommunication with her agent (who thought Stewart didn't want it), Crimson Peak's Mia Wasikowska was cast instead.
When Stewart re-emphasized her interest, the role of starlet Jo-Ann Ellis was offered to her — a role she was not comfortable with (it eventually went to Chloe Grace Moretz). As luck would have it, Wasikowska later dropped out and Stewart cleared her schedule to be re-cast as Valentine.
As for Personal Shopper, Assayas didn't plan to make consecutive films with Stewart, whom he refers to as “the best actress of her generation." However, his 2015 film project, Idol's Eye — that was slated to star Robert De Niro and Stewart's ex-flame Robert Pattinson — fell apart at the last minute. Disillusioned, the French native returned to Paris and wrote a ghost story based in the world of high fashion. In an interview with The Independent, Assayas confessed:
"Ultimately I don’t think I would’ve written this screenplay if I had not known Kristen. It’s more like she inspired it."
Well, it seems that being a French director's muse has certainly done wonders for Stewart's career, bringing critical acclaim a la what American director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, Joy) has done for Jennifer Lawrence. In fact, Assayas had done the same for a former muse — Hong Kong actress and ex-wife Maggie Cheung in Irma Vep (1996) and Clean (2004), the latter of which won her the Best Actress award at Cannes.
As Personal Shopper only opened in cinemas in 2017, many critics believe that Stewart is likely to get due recognition for her stirring performance come awards time. We're certainly looking forward to the pair's next collaboration!
Watch The Trailer For 'Personal Shopper' Here:
Do you think Personal Shopper is Kristen Stewart's career-best performance? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
(Sources: Empire, Total Film, The Guardian, New York Times, The Telegraph, The Independent)