I don’t think I’m unique in having an opinion about the acting talents of Kristen Stewart that has fluctuated over the years. My personal K-Stewmometer, though, has tended toward extreme readings more than most, I’d wager.
When the star first shot to prominence, shoved in front of a gawking America via the Twilight phenomenon, Stewart seemed to be a sneering, petulant creature with the screen presence of an Ikea bookshelf. Even when she showed up in decent indie flicks like Adventureland or On the Road, I still got the impression of a slumming A-lister.
But I was wrong, and I’m big enough to admit it. It’s just that it took a French filmmaker, Olivier Assayas, to make me appreciate the subtleties Stewart can convey. In 2014’s Clouds of Sils Maria, she held her own with the great Juliette Binoche. Now, in Personal Shopper, her latest collaboration with Assayas, she again manages to be enigmatic, but not vapid.
The movie is a cinematic Frankenstein monster, stitched together from different genres into something that transcends its sources: Stewart plays a young American in Paris working as an assistant for a globe-trotting supermodel, buying high-end clothes but never getting to try them on. (It’s a metaphor.) She’s also trying to make psychic contact with a twin brother who died from a heart defect—a disease she also has. She’s also trying to maintain a long-distance Skype relationship with her boyfriend.
Things get sinister when Stewart starts receiving anonymous, threatening text messages, and eventually there’s a murder. But the versatile Assayas (who, 20 years ago, burst on the scene with the similarly genre-bending Irma Vep) is less interested in narrative tension than in exploring the shifting nature of identity—and with letting Stewart continue to fulfill her increasingly evident potential.