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Traveling at the speed of life

Personal Velocity effectively tells the stories of three women working through pain and pressures toward imperfect resolutions.

By PHILIP BOOTH, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 2, 2003

Personal Velocity, adapted by Rebecca Miller from three of her short stories, might remind some viewers of 1983's Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, also a triptych about women's lives and based on a trio of short stories by Grace Paley.

The films are similar in structure and thematic terrain, but the sophomore feature from Miller, daughter of playwright Arthur Miller, goes deeper, feels more authentic and benefits from more compelling performances.

The movie, honored at last year's Sundance Film Festival, was shot quickly and intimately on digital video by Ellen Kuras. Because of her fine work, and our gradual adjustment to the format, that choice of media isn't a distraction.

Onetime indie "it" girl Parker Posey stars in the middle segment, the freshest and most honestly observed of the three stories, perhaps as a result of the autobiographical overlaps with Miller's life.

Posey is Manhattan-born Greta, 28, a cookbook editor at a small publishing house, seemingly content with her nice-guy husband, Lee (Tim Guinee). But she has issues, including the emotional baggage of a torrid affair carried on during the week before her wedding.

Greta dropped out of Harvard Law School, which stalled her quest to follow in the footsteps of her father (Ron Leibman), a famous lawyer. Dad, a cheating husband, says Greta's spouse "lacks size," i.e., driving ambition and accomplishment.

She remains bent on escaping the long shadows of her father's achievements and seeking his approval. After gaining a job editing the latest masterpiece of a hotshot novelist (Joel de la Fuente), the neurotic Greta treats herself to a pair of Manolo Blahniks, begins to revise her view of Lee and eventually considers excising her husband like an unwanted paragraph.

Delia, 34, a battered wife in the process of leaving her husband, may be a stock character, but Kyra Sedgwick does much to lift her story above the ordinary, particularly during a sequence when she's alone, sobbing for her plight and, shockingly but probably true to life, over her love for the man who did so much damage.

In the film's opening segment, she runs for her life, gathering up her three young children and stopping at a home for victims of spouse abuse before settling into the garage of a high-school acquaintance, Fay (Mara Hobel). The two had shared a bond as outcasts, Fay because she was overweight and Delia because of her sexual promiscuity.

The closing story centers on the plight of young Paula (Fairuza Balk), a Bohemian-type party girl fleeing New York and her Haitian boyfriend after witnessing a horrible car accident. On the road, she picks up a young hitchhiker, only to discover that the boy is the victim of brutal physical and emotional scarring.

The thread that weaves through all these pieces -- narrated, oddly enough, by a man (John Ventimiglia) -- is that each woman has been damaged to some extent by men and/or circumstances. Miller, to her credit, isn't interested in assigning blame or providing easy answers as much as she is in capturing each character in crisis and offering glimpses at imperfect solutions.

Personal Velocity

Grade: B

Director: Rebecca Miller

Cast: Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, Fairuza Balk, Nicole Murphy, Tim Guinee, Ron Leibman, Seth Gilliam, David Warshofsky, Brian Tarantina, Mara Hobel, Leo Fitzpatrick, Wallace Shawn, John Ventimiglia

Screenplay: Rebecca Miller

Rating: R; profanity; violence; sexual situations

Running time: 86 min.

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