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flick pick | Personal Velocity 2002
Directed + written by: Rebecca Miller
Starring: Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, Fairuza Balk
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama

Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: artsy-fartsy, serious
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5

Plot synopsis Personality Velocity is really three short films strung together to make one long feature, each story centered on a brief time in the life of a different woman, linked only by a common theme: those tiny little moments in a person’s life that might look like nothing from the outside, but mark a deep and determined shift in the course of that one small life that’s been stagnant for too long. Delia, formerly the town slut in her wild teen years, is now a battered wife and the mother of three young kids. After one violent outburst too many, Delia gets the courage to gather her children and leave her husband, her own anger, fear and just plain common sense finally overcoming the unfortunate fact that she really does love the abusive jerk. She flees to upstate New York where an old high school acquaintance gives Delia and the kids a place to stay, and Delia tries to forge a new life. Greta is the Ivy-league educated daughter of a famous lawyer, who’s beginning to feel like every bit the failure she knows her high-powered dad thinks her to be. She’s married to a kind, adoring, but completely unambitious graduate student, and languishing in an unchallenging job as an editor of cookbooks for a New York publishing house – until from completely out-of-the-blue one day, her boss tells her that a hot young author, latest darling of the literary world, has specifically requested that Greta edit his eagerly-anticipated next novel. Paula’s a scrappy young woman, barely out-of-her-teens, who’s just discovered that she’s pregnant. She’s having problems with her boyfriend, which is how she comes to find herself at a club one evening, hooking up with a stranger. The two of them are walking down the street afterwards when a car comes barreling towards them, hitting and killing him, and leaving her in shock. Paula flees the scene, jumps into her car, and takes off, without a clue as to where she’s heading, except that she has to get away. En route to who knows where, she picks up a young, silent, teenage boy who’s also running away.

Review Some people need their stories to have resolution: a lesson, a neat conclusion, a clear explanation that arrives by the time the closing credits roll, something to make them feel like they know what they’re supposed to think. I like those stories too, sometimes. But I also like the stories that skip the beginning and end, jump straight into the middle of a character’s life with some single, salient event -- give me a tiny little sliver of a person’s life, a tantalizing glimpse, a pointed peek -- then end without telling me what happens to these characters after, leaving me to imagine the what ifs for myself. This is what shorts do well, distill lives into concise key moments, cut out the fat, leave in only what’s important – the danger, of course, being that the details that are deemed crucial enough to reveal in the short story or film can sometimes border on the precious. Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity does occasionally fall into this trap – mostly due to the overuse of voice-over, as the narrator (curiously enough male) wryly and rather dispassionately reveals little tidbits from the characters’ pasts. But the three beautifully-realized, terrifically specific women at the center of the film are such a refreshing change from the usual generic females we see in more mainstream movies that Personal Velocity sometimes feels like a revelation, despite its flaws. Both Fairuza Balk and Kyra Sedgwick are superb in their performances, but it’s Parker Posey’s segment as Greta that’s the standout, with every detail – from the way Greta’s dressed, in that awful headband, to her weird, stiff posture, to the different facades she puts up to interact with her family, friends and husband – crystalline-clear, weirdly funny and achingly revealing.  Personal Velocity manages to avoid becoming an artsy-fartsy version of a Lifetime movie thanks to its lovely, quirky look at three quirky women. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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