Almost every review of the film ‘Personal Shopper’ features this rather bold proclamation: “Kristen Stewart is one of her generation’s greatest actresses.” As kids from her generation would say, exaggerating much?
Let me explain. I saw the film ‘Personal Shopper’ in a preview screening without having read any reviews beforehand. I thought Olivier Assayas’s film was bad; bad in the way a film is trying to be interesting and imaginative and different, but in the end, it just feels cumbersome.
After I saw the movie, I read three or four reviews. All of them were positive. And they all pretty much shared the same opinions: how Assayas did a wonderful and original work showcasing the grieving process, and how Kristen Stewart is a great actress. In the movie Maureen (Stewart) has recently lost her twin brother. She is a medium and is trying to make contact with her dead brother in the way presumably mediums do. What is so special about this grieving process? The special part is that Assayas chose to make her a medium, thus allowing him to treat the grieving process differently.
One reviewer was impressed with how effectively Assayas used text messages in the film. Let me describe it: we’re looking at her mobile’s text messages screen, as texts are being received and written. Well, how else would you show texts that are part of the plot?
None of the reviewers mentioned anything wrong they saw in the movie. But certain scenes were so plainly ridiculous, some in the audience laughed out loud. For instance, Maureen has gone to a hotel meet a real person or possibly a spirit, we don’t know. The scene shows the lobby of the hotel. The elevator door opens, stays open for a couple of seconds, no one is there, then it closes. The camera pans to the right, we still see nothing, the automatic doors open and close, as if -that’s right!- someone invisible was going through them! Do you get it, audience? The spirit/ghost was there! But, wait a minute, why did the spirit/ghost take the freaking elevator? Or go through the lobby door like a mere living creature that doesn’t possess any supernatural capabilities?
In another scene, Stewart is visiting her dead brother’s girlfriend at the house they used to share. Maureen is having a conversation with the girlfriend’s new boyfriend out in the yard outside the kitchen. He mentions he can feel her brother’s presence. She says she can’t. Then in the background we see her brother’s ghost behind the kitchen window drinking from a mug. Then he’s slowly moving towards the kitchen door while still looking ahead at Maureen’s back (or at us?). He looks like an extra trying to discreetly get out of the background of a scene he mistakenly found himself in. When he reaches the door, he disappears, and the mug falls and shatters on the floor. There were laughs from the audience, deservedly so.
I will omit my thoughts on the awkward wooden dialogue, the clunky plot devices, the unclear weird last scene, and move on to Kristen Stewart’s acting, that everyone is praising hard. I guess she became famous when she was in the Twilight movies. I haven’t seen any of these. I have seen Stewart in ‘On the Road’, ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’, ‘Certain Women’. She was also in ‘Still Alice’, but I have no recollection of her being in that movie. My problem with her acting is that it is mainly non-acting (which I differentiate from subtle acting). She delivers every line in the same monotone. Her face carries one and only expression, that of endless ennui. When she’s thinking hard or she’s worried, she’s furrowing her brow, seemingly her only facial movement. When she’s nervous she either flutters her fingers, or runs her fingers through her hair. When she slightly parts her mouth, it means she’s lost in deep thought. In every scene she shares with another actor, when they are supposed to be talking to each other, she seldom makes eye contact with the other actor, she doesn’t interact. Her acting is wooden, self-absorbed. Whenever she smiles in a movie, it is always for a fraction of a second, while her eyes remain expressionless and cold. Why not pretend, Kristen, why not act that smile, the conversation?
And that’s how she is in every movie I’ve seen her. I don’t get that great acting so many people see. Perhaps after the Twilight movies people thought she couldn’t do anything else, so they’re rooting for her effort. Which is fine, and good for her, but I certainly don’t see that alleged greatness. There are many other actors her generation who are better, and hopefully directors offer good roles to them, too.