Personal Velocity Movie Review
Comprised of three frank and psychologically resounding stories of women at crossroads in their relationships with men, writer-director Rebecca Miller's "Personal Velocity" creates a visceral sense of its characters' lives and conflicted emotions that carries it far above and beyond what could have been a melodramatic, Lifetime Channel-style anthology, had it fallen into the wrong hands.
Miller is the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller, and she's learned a thing or two about delving into the human psyche and building an empathetic relationship between characters and audience from her dad's works like "The Crucible" and "Death of a Salesman." Her stories are profound and penetrating on a small, personal scale, and succinct without seeming like allegorical models of modern women's adversity.
Tied loosely together by each character hearing a news report of a hit-and-run accident, the film's three segments follow an abused wife (Kyra Sedgwick) who is finally ready to run away from her husband but has nowhere to go, a yuppie Manhattan book editor (Parker Posey) whose career is taking off just as she's falling out of love with her fiancé and hating herself for it, and an already troubled young punkette (Fairuza Balk) whose direct connection to the hit-and-run has shaken her faith in her relationship barometer just as she's learned she's pregnant.
As each of them flees -- in one way or another and with varying results -- from her relationship, the women's life-altering choices are uniquely shaped by the deep character development clearly undertaken by Miller and her stars. Sedgwick's hard-edged, bridge-burning Delia has had her self-esteem fundamentally shaped by her days as a high school tart. As she struggles to stand on her own two feet -- waitressing and moving into a battered women's shelter with three kids in tow -- the only person she can think to turn to (or perhaps exploit?) for help and a real place to live is a kindly, sheepish high school classmate she used to scorn and hasn't spoken to in years.
Harried and admittedly "rotten with ambition," Greta (Posey) finds her professional ambition amplifying her lack of interest in her impending marriage to an unsuccessful writer when a hot young novelist specifically requests her services as editor on his new book. Posey has the ideal emotional timbre for plumbing Greta's state of mind that begets an affair with the novelist without giving a moment's consideration to calling off the wedding she's dreading.
Talented but frequently typecast Balk ("Almost Famous," "American History X" and "The Craft") makes the film's most lasting impression as Paula, a habitually struggling young woman whose hard shell has been cracked by the utter randomness of her more personal proximity to the correlating car accident. Shaken to her core and somewhat in shock, she has just taken off on a spontaneous, soul-searching, solo road trip when she picks up a badly-beaten teenage hitchhiker and feels such an altruistic compulsion to care for the scurvy boy that she offers to return to her precarious live-in relationship if her boyfriend will allow her to take the kid in. This elicits a careful response from her lover and a rash reaction from the bewildered, impulsive boy.
Having adapted "Personal Velocity" from her own book, Miller's manifold storytelling knows all the textures of her heroines' lives, and knows them well enough that as a director she can get away with heavy narration that feels like a liberating, cathartic internal dialogue for each character. She also succeeds in using the immediacy of digital cinematography to get in close to these women -- literally and figuratively -- even if the digi-personal nature of the movie sometimes results in digi-grainy picture quality.
As such, it's a bit surprising the film won a cinematography prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Far less surprising is that "Personal Velocity" took home the Grand Jury Prize, the festival's highest honor.