Thursday, February 27, 2003

Destiny's children

Movie: Personal Velocity

Posted on Thu, Feb 27, 2003 at 4:00 AM

***1/2
Our Rating: 3.50

In "Personal Velocity," there are three women connected by strange turns, accidental epiphanies and the craft of fiction. There's white-trash Delia Shunt -- "rhymes with cunt" -- (Kyra Sedgwick), who lives in a destructive marriage molded by her abusive hippie dad and premature breasts. There's Greta (Parker Posey), who married safe-and-sure Lee and edits cookbooks to stave off her addiction to ambition. And there's Paula (Fariuza Balk), who runs from rejection and near-death in a wood-grained station wagon, keeping the company of a mutilated hitchhiker.

In her career, writer-director Rebecca Miller, daughter of legendary playwright Arthur Miller, has gone from art to acting to fiction-writing to no-frills filmmaking. Her visually fractured prose portraits appear as if they were constructed from overexposed or fading '70s snapshots, emanating aesthetic reflections of her painting degree from Yale.

Based on Miller's collection of short stories of the same name, "Personal Velocity" seems tailor-made for art-house audiences. It cradles the short-story essence -- threaded together by an all-knowing narration that peels off the women's immediate personas to reveal their hidden desires and dirty secrets -- but takes said essence to a place that stretches just beyond the page.

When in trouble, slutty Delia turns to earlier feats of high-school pleasure to give her the power to face life. Sedgwick fleshes out the rebellious character by shaking her frightening, lust-manifesting mean ass around like a time bomb. And Balk effectively drives Paula, wide-eyed and squirrely down a goalless road fueled by doughnuts.

Unfortunately, Greta's story, the strongest and most capricious, is placed in the middle, which softens the impact of the entire package. As a bored wife, Posey dissolves any annoying bonds to her string of spastic and neurotic indie-film characters. She emerges as a fully multidimensional person, who morphs from a slightly despicable character into one who grasps us with her newfound compassion. Greta's story (and Posey's performance) prevail in this film, with a balance of mixed anxieties and bare-faced entertainment.

The message in "Personal Velocity" merges what the audience easily detects is happening on the surface with churning internal bits of what really matters to the three women's self-worth. Everyone comes into her own, at her own time, in her own way, triggered by circumstance and a slap in the face by fate.

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