Kristen Stewart And Jodie Foster: Psychic Tomboy Twins Separated By 30 Years

“Personal Shopper” and “The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane” are linked by their lead actresses, but not their quality.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a proper film review. And it looks like the wait will be extended, given how little there is to say about the latest outing from Olivier Assayas. At Cannes the press screening of Personal Shopper was booed, while in its world premiere public screening, the film got a standing ovation. Go figure.

I decided the film was a must-see after reading a gushing piece online last week hailing the brilliance of Kristen Stewart’s performance. Note to self: Never underestimate how misguided straight male critics can be when utterly infatuated with an especially hot young actress. I confess I have suffered this same kind of delusion myself: In 1982 I was convinced Mariel Hemingway deserved an Oscar nomination for her groundbreaking turn in Personal Best. Alas it was only nascent lesbian desire obscuring my better judgment.

I too am smitten with K-Stew; it was nonetheless not difficult for my cooler head to prevail during the film’s painfully long 105-minute running time during which the wisp of a story ranges from unbearable to scarcely tolerable.

Stewart portrays Maureen (even her name seems arbitrarily dull), a young American in Paris who moonlights as an errand girl for a wildly famous supermodel and spends the rest of her time in a creepy old house trying to connect with a ghost. Maureen’s twin brother recently died and she waits for him to give her a sign from beyond the grave. And we wait with her.

In interviews around the film’s premiere at Cannes in 2016 Assayas proclaimed some very lofty artistic visions about the screenplay (which he says he wrote specifically for Stewart after working with her on their previous collaboration, The Clouds of Sils Maria). Sadly those visions (about technology and loneliness, etc.) come off here as either pretentious or tedious or both despite, and sometimes because of, Stewart’s presence in virtually every frame of the film.

The script clunks along. Slim premise after tedious plot point after inane dialogue exchange unfolding steadily throughout—kudos go to Stewart that she makes a 20-minute texting exchange the highlight of the film. Stewart’s charismatic combination of masculine and feminine qualities echoes the appeal of the young Jodie Foster and makes her, like Foster, one of the most fascinating and watchable actresses of her generation.

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Personal Shopper/IFC
Since I can’t recommend Personal Shopper I will leave you with a different suggestion. The long-unavailable 1977 Jodie Foster drama, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is now available on digital via Vudu. Like Personal Shopper for Stewart, Little Girl features the tomboyish Jodie Foster in nearly every frame as a young woman in mysterious communication with a recently deceased relative. Foster plays Rynn, the orphaned 13-year-old daughter of a famous author. Before his death, father and daughter had devised a plan that Rynn should continue living alone in their remote rented Cape Cod house pretending to the posh landlady (Alexis Smith) and her adult son (a fabulously creepy performance by Martin Sheen) that the father is still alive so Rynn wouldn’t be sent to an orphanage. An improbable premise perhaps but Foster’s performance is so riveting it’s easy to suspend your disbelief.

A relatively modest French-Canadian drama with some extremely dark themes, Little Girl came out in August of 1977 on the heels of Foster’s breakthrough performance in Taxi Driver—which premiered at Cannes in May 1976 and went on to nab Foster her first Oscar nomination while also thrusting her away from her Disney movie roots (Freaky Friday and Candleshoe also came out in 1976-77) and into serious acting. Like Taxi Driver, Little Girl exploits the phenomenal precociousness Foster had in those early years — ah, nostalgia for the days when little kids smoked and swore in the movies.
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The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

While it is certainly not on a par with Taxi Driver as top-notch cinema Little Girl is a much more substantial and enjoyable film than the trashy-horror-movie style title suggests. I distinctly remember the American International Pictures campaign when it was released and thinking it would resemble Wes Craven’s 1972 debut film, The Last House on the Left. The poster for the film leaves the impression that the little girl is a homicidal maniac, when the true appeal of the film is that she’s living out the fantasy of innumerable teenage children that their parents would just die and leave them alone.

Personal Shopper is now in theaters. The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is available in SD digital from Vudu.

Jenni Olson is one of the world's leading experts on LGBT cinema history and a co-founder of PlanetOut.com. Her latest film project is "The Royal Road."
@JenniOlsonSF