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Personal Velocity

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Personal Velocity

Starring: Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey
Director: Rebecca Miller
Rated: R
RunTime: 86 Minutes
Release Date: November 2002
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Fairuza Balk, Wallace Shawn, Leo Fitzpatrick, John Ventimiglia

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

If you were asked at an interview (for college, for a job, for whatever) to name a single moment that constituted a turning point in your life as though you were hit by a bolt of lightning, what would you say? Many of us could come up with events that gradually changed our outlook, but this question could throw you. In "Personal Velocity," Rebecca Miller, adapting her own book of short stories, tells of three women who have had epiphanies that turned them around and made their lives better. Each revelation is as different as is each woman. Though "Personal Velocity" treats men as supporting players, this is not a chick flick. I like to think of the film as an illustration of a universal principle because I believe that each of us genuinely awaits this bolt of lightning that will set us on the right course.

The idea of revelation, then, is the common thread that unites the three principal players, though unlike the format of many trilogies, the women never meet. Delia (Kyra Sedgwick), Greta (Parker Posey), and Paula (Fairuza Balk) have problems that have put their lives on hold and worse. Each needs to find a way to regain a sense of empowerment (if you'll pardon the much overused, p.c. term). For Delia, that empowerment would come from a return to a time in her life that she commanded the rapt attention of men. Greta needs to recover the ambition that gave her a sense of purpose years ago. Paula has a boyfriend but lacks a sense of home, of fulfillment.

Rebecca Miller takes us on these three journeys, each about a half hour in length, showing us that while women are individuals, each as different from the other as a trio of snowflakes and driven by a wholly personal velocity, they all need to reinvent themselves lest they become lost in life's impersonal shuffle.

Greta, the most interesting of the three perhaps because I have a soft spot for the immensely funny Parker Posey ("Best of Show") works for a low-end New York publishing house. Her life changes when a hot novelist asks her to edit his latest work, one which becomes a best-seller and allows Greta to be reinvigorated both sexually and professionally. Her bolt of lightning comes during a final scene with her scholarly but unexciting husband. Delia, who unlike Greta comes from a working-class background, was a devil-may-girl gal in high school, a tramp and loving her way of life. Leaving her abusive husband, she's as alienated by the women's crisis center with its patronizing social worker as she is in her family setting. She realizes what she needs suddenly when on a date with a lecherous guy much younger than she. Paula's story, the least realized of the three, deals with a woman who maintains a strained relationship with her mother and is ambivalent about her boyfriend though the latter had saved her from a life of the streets. Pregnant but considering abortion, she undergoes a sudden stroke of enlightenment after picking up a 15- year-old runaway boy.

While the performances are strong all around, with the men in the cast supplying information that helps us to understand the three women, the most striking thing about the picture is Rebecca Miller's script--chock full of ironic commentary and also some prescient narration by John Ventimiglia. The fuzziness of the DV images is compensated for by the restrained and effective use of freeze-frames that allow us in the audience to focus on some particular high points in the lives of the women. "Personal Velocity" is a small movie, witty and funny amid its melodramatic flourishes, an intimate portrait that should make us think about our own life experiences with their moments of unexpected inspiration.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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