Three women are each trying to escape from men who confine their personal freedom. Delia (Kyra Sedgwick) is a tough young woman in an abusive relationship with her husband (David Warshofsky) and decides to leave him and take their three children to start afresh; Greta (Parker Posey) is a cookbook editor who is in love with her devoted husband Lee (Tim Guinee), but whose ambition leads her to infidelity; Paula (Fairuza Balk) is a troubled 21 year old who is running away after a near-death experience. She picks up a hitchhiker, Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci), and when she discovers he has been badly beaten, he helps her to discover herself.
Review by Louise Keller:
Based on a book of short stories, Personal Velocity is a trilogy about three women who have each reached a critical point in their lives and are intent on changing their circumstance. They are not connected in any way, except for a common breaking news story that is flashed on the television and whose relevance becomes apparent in the third story. Rebecca Miller’s script and film envelops us in the lives of these three women, who are each brought to life by three highly talented actresses. This is a low-budget film shot on video and whose DOGME-like camera work brings immediacy to the work. It is quite a stylised piece and it’s credit to the cast and the filmmakers that the characters engage us to the extent that they do. One of the techniques used is that of the narrative – passages of prose from the short story is read by a narrator, giving us an insight into the character of giving dialogue to what is happening. “Delia lay awake that night, finally in the deep recesses of her memory…” goes the narration, when flashbacks dip in and out of the past to tell us Delia’s story. This first story is the least successful of the three and never really satisfies, even though Kyra Sedgwick’s performance is heartbreaking. I really enjoyed the second story in which Parker Posey’s Greta is absolutely intriguing. Married for four years, Greta is a book editor, ‘great at trimming fat’. We learn of her fidelity problem through flashbacks and her urge to get physical with her famous author client. But her compulsion to get rid of redundant paragraphs goes one step further. I was sorry to farewell Greta, but then we meet Paula who is a bit of a mystery girl. Her past unravels and her future becomes certain when she befriends a young boy hitchhiker with whom she connects. Fairuza Balk’s Paula is complex, frightened and confused. The hitchhiker is the catalyst that allows her to work herself out. Each story runs for less than 30 minutes, but in that time, we learn plenty about the women, often freeze frames and jump cuts in time. While it doesn’t break new ground, Personal Velocity does offer great insight into the lives of these three women in crisis, and takes us to the brink of the crossroad.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Less a movie than three illustrated chapters of a book reading, Personal Velocity is three short films joined by a device. That structure, with a narration over moving and still images, by itself doesn’t limit the film’s appeal, but the execution does. There’s a new fetish among younger filmmakers of using a hand held camera, in faux documentary style. In this case, it’s justified by the fact that the low budget film is shot on digital video. But even digital videos can be held still, or mounted on a tripod. The idea that an unsteady camera somehow implies greater realism is absurd for drama; it does the exact opposite, by drawing our attention to the camera. Instead of the neutrality of the images, we are constantly trying to translate the images from an unsteady cameraman’s point of view.
This does nothing to make either of the three stories jump successfully to the screen. They are each glued together by the narration, which just isn’t satisfying enough, and shot in crazy-paving close ups that accentuate the fragmented nature of the film as a whole. Only the third story works as a real story, with an accessible structure, an emotional core and a satisfying payoff.
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PERSONAL VELOCITY (MA)
PRODUCER: Alexis Alexanian, Lemore Syvan, Gary Winick
DIRECTOR: Rebecca Miller
SCRIPT: Rebecca Miller (book of short stories, Personal Velocity)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ellen Kuras
EDITOR: Sabine Hoffmann
MUSIC: Michael Rohatyn
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Judy Becker
OTHER: WINNER: Grand Jury Prize – 2002 Sundance Film Festival
RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 17, 2003 (advance screenings July 11, 12, 13, 2003)
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: January 14, 2004