January 17, 2003 -- "Personal Velocity" is a movie with some interesting stories of three women in trouble, but the film, despite some great acting performances, is sabotaged by poor direction.
There are three parallel stories in the film following three women in trouble, Greta (Parker Posey of "The Anniversary Party"), Delia (Kyra Sedgwick of "Phenomenon") and Paula (Fairuza Balk of "Almost Famous").
Delia, stuck in an abusive relationship with her husband, Kurt (David Warshofsky), finally decides to escape with her three children after he brutally beats her. Her struggle for independence is instructive on why leaving an abusive husband is not the easy answer some people think it is. The story follows Delia as she tries to make a new life for her family, living with friends and working as a waitress. She has to cope with an overbearing, horny son of the owner of the restaurant where she works. A hand-job scene is supposed to show her strength and defiance. Instead, it seems pointless and sad.
Greta (Parker Posey) is a book editor who finds unexpected success and temptation in her career. She half-heartedly struggles to remain a little bit faithful to her kind, but unexciting husband, Lee (Tim Guinee). She finds herself changing into a person far different than she was when she married Lee. This is a kind of story that is usually told about men who cheat on their wives, not vice versa.
Paula (Fairuza Balk), has a spiritual crisis after a tragic experience. Driving to her mother's house in upstate New York, she picks up a hitchhiker, Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci), who indirectly helps her find herself. This is probably the most thought-provoking of the three stories, and the most universal in its appeal. Like the other two stories, it is emotional, but there is also a hint of philosophy in it.
The stories are interesting and the actors do a good job of bringing these characters to life. The men, of course, are either ciphers, twits or evil brutes. Only Guinee has a decent male role, and he is not an adult. The three stories also work well together. What doesn't work is the way the film is directed by Rebecca Miller, who also wrote the screenplay which is based on her book. You can't really blame Miller for being in love with her own words, but this film is more like a slide show accompanied by an audio book than a movie. Every time there is action on the screen, it goes to freeze frame and in comes narration, followed by a series of still shots as the narrator drones on and on. There are too many interruptions of the narrative and not enough use of images and actions to advance the story. If you have to continually use a narrator to explain what's happening on the screen, you are probably not doing your job as a director. There are exceptions to this rule of course, but first-time directors break this rule at their peril. It is a real chore to watch this herky-jerky movie. This film rates a C-.
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