"Personal Velocity" (IMDb listing) tells three separate stories. The first involves a former teenage sexpot, Delia (Kyra Sedgwick, "Phenomenon"), who is fed up with her abusive husband, and has moved herself and her three children out of her home to live at an old friend's house. It is there that Delia tries to pick up the pieces of her life, and regain control of the sexuality that once defined her. Story two concerns Greta (Parker Posey), a floundering book editor with a loving, but uninteresting and less successful husband. When Greta gets the chance to edit a famous author's book, it forces her to confront her own likelihood of success and her loss of romantic feelings toward her spouse. Tale three opens on Paula (Fairuza Balk), a troubled teenager who has just discovered she's pregnant, and has run away from her boyfriend. On the road to her parents' house, she picks up a hitchhiker, and finds that the quiet young boy has been savagely beaten. Taking into account her own past experiences with fate and kindness from strangers, Paula decides to help the hitchhiker any way she can.
Rebecca Miller's "Personal Velocity" is an unfurling storybook of internal struggles. Based on her own book, Miller (the daughter of Arthur) has brought to the screen a truly artistic film. In both photography and performance, Miller has found the correct medium for her stories to come alive.
Using the normally abysmal digital video format, Miller has unearthed the correct way to focus in on her tales of woe and hope. Rarely obtrusive, this is the odd film that actually benefits from the jittery, outstandingly pretentious format. That's not to say that some shots don't look like a spastic child was holding the camera, but Miller keeps these moments to a minimum, with the rest of the photography finding exciting and intriguing ways of getting in to each character's head. Miller throws in some still frame montages as well, creating a cinematic collage for her stories. It brings an unforeseen beauty to the film, and creates a new appreciation for Miller, as she's able to bring something out of DV that few filmmakers have managed.
The core of the film isn't the emotional journeys of the characters, but the uncommonly superb work coming from the three actresses (as well as the narrator, actor John Ventimiglia) . Rarely getting a chance to play outside the box, Sedgwick and Posey blow the doors off what I perceived of their talents before this film. Both actresses are simply astounding as they feel their way around the sharp edges of their characters' complex lives. I never thought I'd see the day when I would enjoy a Parker Posey performance, but this is it. Given a meaty, lustfully intricate character to inhabit, Posey drops all those ugly, sarcastic habits she's formed over the years. If there is any one thing to recommend about "Personal Velocity," it is definitely Posey, and her first real attempt at raw emotional response.
It's in the third story where Miller gets in over her head. The Fairuza Balk saga doesn't quite have the spine, creatively or narratively, that the other segments feature, thus making it the most wandering of the three. It has a tremendously ambitious moral, perhaps the least convincing of the three, and it doesn't succeed. The film is subtitled "Three Portraits," and that's what it truly is. The tales don't end, and they don't really begin either. It's just a 30 minute flashlight shone upon conflicted lives, and the Balk story suffers from lacking a defined strength in that light. It's a shame really, as the normally under utilized Balk puts in some powerful work, and the tale offer rare moments of tenderness from a deeply abrasive film.
Filmfodder Grade: A-