Personal Velocity
review by Laura Bushell, 29 November 2002

Based on her novel of the same name, Rebecca Miller’s innovative second feature paints intimate portraits of three women on the verge of a critical and life-changing decision, each struggling in their own way to find freedom from a man in their life. Presided over by an extremely wordy voiceover, Miller’s style is a little too conscious of its literary roots, but through accomplished storytelling and use of digital camerawork, she has forged a very distinct and impressive style as a young filmmaker.

Out of the seven short stories in her novel, Miller has picked abused wife Delia, career girl Greta and runaway Paula; three women from three very different walks of life who each take roughly a third of the film for their stories. Firstly we meet Delia who, as a teenager (Laura Finelli), traded on her shapely figure to gain adoration from boys and find a pleasurable escape from an abusive home life. Now married with three children, Delia (Kyra Sedgewick) has ended up in another violent relationship with a husband who humiliates her in front of her children. After a particularly degrading beating, Delia flees with her children to a women’s shelter and then calls on an old schoolmate to house her temporarily so that she can work in a local diner. From these humble beginnings, Delia is then able to rebuild her life with her children and regain the power that her husband took away.

This she does by rediscovering her allure men, in particular the slimy advances of the cook’s son Mylert (Leo Fitzpatrick). Although she has finally escaped her husband, it’s no easy ride for Delia. Ashamed that she’s housing her children in a friend’s garage, forsaking her pride to rebuild her life and finally using the feelings of another person to bolster herself self-esteem, she’s as messy and complicated as you’d expect a woman in her situation to be in real life. Miller spares the melodrama and leaves Delia’s story open ended – there’s hope that she will rehabilitate herself but we’re aware of her emotional baggage – avoiding the clichés of a victimized woman who finds her perfect man in the end.

In the second and most absorbing story, Parker Posey gives a superb performance as Greta, a happily married cookbook editor who has all the ingredients for a comfortable life but finds herself completely unstimulated by it all. Given the opportunity to work with a hot young author, she begins to reflect on her life and her complete lack of satisfaction in both her work and relationship. Unable to remain faithful to her husband, as a flashback to a past fling illustrates, Greta has to deal with the fact that a step up the career ladder is also a step away from her marriage. But it’s also a step back towards her well-connected and equally ambitious father, who she deliberately lost contact with after he was unfaithful to her mother.

Greta is lacking in self-confidence to the degree that she uses her new job to impress an old friend at a party and make her life seem interesting. The previously confident college newspaper editor who was disgusted by her father’s infidelity finds herself drawn towards the very same lifestyle, almost inevitably, and painfully resigns herself to the fact that her attempt at a steady, settled life will not work. Greta could have a separate film to herself, so well observed and subtly acted is her character. She is the most enthralling woman out of the three; attractive; charismatic whilst vulnerable and objectionable in her actions, and her story is ultimately the most moving.

Paula (Fairuza Balk) is the third case study in this trio of women, and the weakest. The youngest of the three, she hits the road after being witness to an accident, which killed the man she was with. On the way to her mother’s house she picks up a hitchhiker; a solemn teenage boy who is happy to be taken wherever she’s going. Previously homeless, Paula was taken in by her boyfriend, and is now scared of the deepening commitment in her relationship brought about by her unexpected pregnancy. Paula’s story is the most obviously sympathetic of the three. She’s clearly in shock after the accident, which neatly explains away her rash behavior and her selfish need to flee from her problems. Managing to admit and solve her problems by the conclusion of her segment as well as caring for another vulnerable person works too neatly to tie up the story, given the more complex issues at work in the previous two stories.

Refreshingly, Personal Velocity conjures up a trio of female characters whose lives aren’t written away by tired clichés but brought to screen with all the messiness and confusion of realistic emotional dilemmas. However, the tenuous link between each story gives the overall feeling of three short films linked together by a similar theme, each involving within themselves rather than part of a whole. Linking each story together is a wry and detached male voiceover, unusual considering the subject matter, which prevents the film from straying too far into chick flick territory or being too overtly girlie. It’s a distinct stylistic move that suits the introspective nature of this subject matter, but often feels over explanatory and over-literary in its choice of language. Miller uses freeze-frame to give the voiceover precedent where dialogue or imagery should be the expressive medium, as though she had problems editing down her prose into a script.

The use of digital photography here lends the film an intimate quality; stunning imagery and cinematic artifice are not at the forefront so much as creating an authentic environment for each character to exist within. And it’s the characters that are most memorable and provocative; their mixture of hope and hopelessness being indicative of Miller’s grasp on authentic and fully realized characters. Personal Velocity makes some uncomfortable moves as far as cinematic style is concerned, but it treats its subjects with honesty and humanity in a way that makes its flaws forgivable.

Written and
Directed by:

Rebecca Miller

John Ventimiglia
Kyra Sedgwick
David Warshofsky
Brian Tarantina
Mara Hobel
Leo Fitzpatrick
Parker Posey
Tim Guinee
Wallace Shawn
Joel de la Fuente
Ron Leibman
Josh Phillip Weinstein
Ben Shenkman
Fairuza Balk
Lou Taylor Pucci
Seth Gilliam
David Patrick Kelly
Patti D'Arbanville

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult guardian.






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