Personal Velocity: Three Portraits

(2002) *** 1/2 R
86 min. United Artists. Director: Rebecca Miller. Cast: Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, Fairuza Balk, David Warshofsky, Brian Tarantina (II).

Subtitled Three Portraits, Personal Velocity tells three thematically related stories of women making personal discoveries. Though their stories intersect by only the thinnest narrative filament, writer-director Rebecca Miller pulls off a neat trick in adapting three of her own short stories into a screenplay and, finally, a film. Each story is liable to leave the audience wanting more, though it's difficult to say if any one story would fill out into a satisfying feature of its own.

Kyra Sedgwick plays Delia, subject of the first story. A free spirit blindsided by cruel reality, Delia musters the strength to start a new life for herself. A one woman whirlwind, Delia sets to work blindsiding old friends and new acquaintances as she reestablishes herself in a new home. The second story—a comic hoot set among the elite class—follows Parker Posey as Greta, a humble publisher who outgrows her life. The final story tells of Fairuza Balk's Paula, a tumbleweed of a woman forced to look in the mirror after a couple of karmic paybacks.

Using murky, ragged-edged digital video as her medium, Miller employs still-frames, slo-mo, freeze-frames, and wipes to supplement her wry narration, read by John Ventimiglia. Some scenes reveal the budgetary, mechanical limitations; in Balk's story, for example, a key, rain-battered scene set in a car forces the camera awkwardly into the back seat to record all of the action. Still, Miller is obviously resourceful, especially in her sensitive coaxing of her leading women. Sedgwick runs an impressive emotional gamut in about half an hour, varyingly shrinking and towering in her frustrations. Posey, while refusing to look down her nose at Greta, amusingly sends up the attitudes which got her into trouble. Balk ably modulates her shell-shocked metier for the most thematically obvious story.

Personal Velocity falls short of brilliance, but calls for celebration by telling not one but three stories about women, sensitively, irreverently, and earnestly.

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