Maureen (Stewart) is a personal shopper for a wealthy socialite in Paris. Her twin brother Lewis has recently died from a rare heart condition that she also shares, and she's stuck "waiting" for a specific event to happen: a sign from him beyond the grave.
In addition to their shared heart condition, both siblings could also communicate with the dead. In the event of his hypothetical death, Lewis promised Maureen that he'd send her a message that he was at peace, thusly allowing her to move on from her loss. It's been some time since he died, and she's still waiting.
Between juggling her job as a personal shopper and moonlighting as a medium, Maureen is also forced to deal with an abhorrent admirer contacting her through texts from an unknown number, who may or may not be Lewis himself.
Sanity slippage ensues, and Maureen's inability to accept Lewis' death (or communicate with his spirit, rather) leaves her desperate for closure, even if it means wallowing in a job she hates in a city she completely anonymous in.
Personal Shopper is the second collaboration between Assayas and Stewart (following 2015's Clouds of Sils Maria), and won Best Director Award at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
Personal Shopper contains examples of the following tropes:
- Ambiguous Situation: After Maureen is ordered to go to the hotel room, the camera cuts to an empty elevator opening up, then tracks... something down the hall, which then leaves out the hotel doors. It's unclear whether this is Lewis's spirit, Maureen's murdered ghost or a simple mechanical error.
- Angsty Surviving Twin: Maureen is still mourning the loss of her twin brother when we meet her.
- Bittersweet Ending: Maureen realizes that she's been alone the whole time, and everything she's experienced may have been a manifestation of her grief and inability to move on past her brother's death. Alternatively, Lewis has been with her the whole time, and she's unable to understand his presence, unlike his lover's new boyfriend. Either way, she at least has some sense of closure that she's never going to get the sign she's looking for, and needs to move on with her life.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: While Kyra is out of town, Maureen goes to Kyra's apartment, tries on her clothes (which, it's been established, Kyra does not want her to do), and masturbates in Kyra's bed.
- Fan Disservice: Stewart goes topless in two scenes, but one of them is set during a clinical doctor's appointment regarding her heart condition. Not exactly the sexiest situation to be in.
- The Ghost: Lewis, literally and figuratively.
- Haunted House: The film opens with Maureen surveying one for spirits.
- Ill Girl: While not as immediately life-threatening as her brother's, Maureen still suffers from a congenital heart condition that she's just as susceptible to.
- Jerkass: Kyra is shown to be a spoiled, entitled brat who flakes on appointments and payments, cheats on her husband and constantly leaves Maureen to clean up her messes for her.
- Magic Realism: While Maureen herself isn't sure about spirits and the afterlife, the audience is shown that ghosts very much exist in the world of this film.
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: While ghosts do exist in the film, it's unclear to what extent Maureen is actually experiencing them, which ones are manmade, and to what extent her grief is affecting them. Though this is complicated by Word of God, which states that there were no ghosts, but rather the events of the film were part of Maureen's path to find herself.
- Phone Call from the Dead: Or texts from the dead, rather. Maureen continuously chats with an unknown number throughout the film, despite not knowing who she's texting... or if they're even alive, as she initially suspects it's Lewis trying to contact her. Averted when it ends up being Ingo.
- The Prima Donna: Maureen describes Kyra this way, and sees her with equal parts disdain and jealousy.
- Posthumous Character: Lewis has already died prior to the events of this film.
- Random Events Plot: The film's story is essentially built around Maureen's day-to-day life along with whatever interruptions come her way.
- Shopping Montage: The entire film can be seen as a mundane take on this trope, since Maureen is shown shopping for Kyra at various stores in Paris throughout. These scenes are portrayed matter-of-factly, since it's literally her day job, rather than glamorously or aspirational.
- Space Whale Aesop: The way to feel closer to the dead is by keeping strong relationships with the living. Lewis's ghost actually does appear at the end and gives Maureen a sign, but she is unable to interpret it as Lewis, possibly leading Lewis to drop a glass right in front of her face at the end of the film. Meanwhile, Lewis's old friend, who has no apparent medium skills, claims to still feel Lewis's presence strongly, while the lonely, friendless Maureen has trouble contacting spirits over the course of the film.
- Yandere: Ingo murders Kyra after she decides to cut off their relationship, and it's implied that the reason he encourages Maureen to try on Kyra's dresses is because he's interested in her and wants to mold her into a new Kyra.