Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart as a Personal Shopper Who Sees Ghosts


Kristen Stewart shot to fame as Bella Swan in The Twilight Saga series and has also appeared in big budget films like Snow White and the Huntsman. But her talents really shine in less high profile vehicles, like Still Alice where she played the daughter least likely to care for her Alzheimer-striken mother (Julianne Moore in her Oscar-winning performance). In Clouds of Sils Maria, directed by Olivier Assayas, Stewart stood out as the spirited assistant to an aging actress (Juliette Binoche). That performance won Stewart a César Award, making her the first American actress to do so. Stewart and Assayas are together once again in his new film, Personal Shopper. This may be Stewart’s best performance to date. It’s certainly a memorable one.


Stewart’s Maureen Cartwright lives in Paris and, as the title suggests, she’s a personal shopper, zipping around the city on her motor bike, frequenting designer showrooms to select outfits for a media celebrity, Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). Kyra is married to a wealthy man (we never learn any more about him), while having an affair with a writer for French Vogue (Lars Eldinger). She attends as many events as possible so she can be photographed and post the images on social media. The designers lend Kyra the clothes, expecting them to be returned.

Maureen has a good eye and what she selects keeps Kyra in the spotlight. Her hard work is not rewarded. Kyra is the boss from hell, forbidding Maureen from trying on any of the borrowed clothes. When Kyra decides to keep two pairs of leather pants, Maureen is on the hook and must deal with the designer.

Maureen puts up with Kyra because she has unfinished business in Paris. She and her twin brother, Lewis, both mediums able to sense spirits, were born with the same heart defect. They promised each other that the twin who went first would send the other a message. After Lewis dies of a heart attack, Maureen is determined to stay until she receives a sign from her brother that he’s OK.

Shop4The opening scene finds Maureen in a spooky, deserted mansion owned by Lewis. She spends the night and feels a presence. Is it Lewis? A couple wants to buy the home but is looking for Maureen to assure them that any spirits still lingering are benign. (I would opt for no spirits, but perhaps the Parisian housing market is tight.) Another evening, one very angry ghost appears then vanishes. Maureen tells Lewis’ partner, Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz), that the spirit will not return and that the house is clean.

Lara has moved on, now in a relationship with one of Lewis’ friends. Maureen, however, is still grieving. She’s alive, but she’s barely surviving, walking through her daily routines like the ghosts she sometimes sees. She begins receiving on her phone disturbing texts from “unknown.” Whoever it is, knows everything about her, including what she fears. Is the sender someone she knows? A person? A spirit? Lewis? Exhausted and vulnerable, Maureen begins acting on some of the sender’s suggestions, spending a night at Kyra’s apartment trying on the borrowed clothes and using a card key left for her to visit a hotel room. No one is there, deepening the mystery.

While the supporting cast is solid, this is Stewart’s film to carry and she is in total control. She’s is in virtually every scene, but that’s not why we can’t keep our eyes off her. Eschewing the physical moves that characterized her action films, she pulls us into her character with the smallest gesture or facial expression. It’s a riveting performance, one that will stay in the viewer’s mind long after the final scene.

Assayas has produced an enigmatic, multi-layered film. It’s a character study, a supernatural thriller, a murder mystery, with a woman-in-danger at the center. It dips into horror with some scenes featuring ghostly apparitions, but the psychological suspense is what keeps us on the edge of our seats.

Photos by Carole Bethuel. Courtesy of IFC Films.

Woody Allen’s Café Society – Where Dull Characters and Bad Dialogue Meet 


Every year, like clockwork, Woody Allen releases a new film. And it seems like the quality of his films keeps getting worse. Café Society brings in the usual: The big name stars, the idyllic setting, two people falling in love. These elements are usually enough to do the trick, but Allen has somehow run his creative streak into the ground. Simply put, Café Society is plagued by creative fatigue, dull characters, and side plots that take away from a film that is almost one big side plot in and of itself.

Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) comes from a Jewish New York City family. His mother, in her attempt to help get him a job, calls up her brother Phil Stern (Steve Carell), a big-time Hollywood agent. So Bobby packs his stuff and moves out to Los Angeles for a while. His uncle is constantly busy and doesn’t really make any time for him, but he eventually helps Bobby pick up a job. While working in his uncle’s office, Bobby meets Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), and he’s immediately smitten. Vonnie tells him from the start that she can’t be involved with him beyond friendship because she has a boyfriend. What Bobby doesn’t know, however, is that Vonnie’s boyfriend turns out to be Phil. After finding out, Bobby moves back to New York City and decides to help his older brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), run his nightclubs. Somehow, he manages not to  get involved in his brother’s more illegal dealings. While at one of the clubs, he meets, courts, and quickly marries Veronica (Blake Lively), who just happens to share the same name as his former girlfriend. But will he ever move on from loving Vonnie?


Steve Carell

To say Café Society lacks any true substance would be accurate. Allen continuously revives the same kinds of characters. Characters who are seeking something, or someone, they have never encountered, always in somewhat of a naive approach. The situations they’re in may be only slightly different, but this isn’t saying much because they’re always, always the same semi-pretentious, surface-level characters no matter the setting. Café Society is set in late 1930s Hollywood, with all the style and glamour that this world encompasses. Yet it feels empty, with Allen going for part cynical and part dreamy, and neither of the two working in the film’s favor. Are we supposed to have sympathy for these characters? It sure doesn’t feel that way. Every scene feels clipped and because there’s no pull toward any singular person, the film feels oddly long for a run time of only an hour and a half.

Allen’s biggest misstep is the narration. His voice carries throughout the film’s scenes, practically giving us a play-by-play of what is going on and what the characters are thinking. His narration is lackluster and is blatantly lazy writing. Instead of showing us and delving further into character development through interaction, Allen chooses to tell us. Through the narration, we also receive loads of information on things and characters that are rather useless to the plot and only serve to waste time.  Café Society is filled with ridiculous and horribly cheesy lines that even all the film’s big-name actors can’t save.

Ultimately, Café Society is drab and filled with a lot of problems: Lackluster characters, bad dialogue, too many minor plots, and narration more concerned with telling and not showing. Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, who I’ve always found to have superb chemistry when they’re together onscreen, are particularly good. Steve Carell is the older man who gets the girl (like in many, many Woody Allen movies), but his character doesn’t bring much to the table. Far more surprising is Blake Lively’s character, who’s barely in the film and exists only to be married to Eisenberg. Together, they have an onscreen dynamic.

In the last fifteen years, Woody Allen has made a few memorable films, but the remainder have been terrible and agonizing to sit through. Unfortunately, Café Society is another addition to that very long list.

Photos courtesy of Lionsgate
Top: Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart