Personal Velocity (2002)
"Pardon me, could you tell me how to get to Salem?"
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Former actress and painter Rebecca Miller is best known as a writer, and to be even more honest is probably better known for being the daughter of Arthur Miller and the wife of Daniel Day-Lewis. I point this out up front, because for varying reasons it seems that all of these talents and second-hand celebrity - figure into this intriguing triptych of a directorial debut. These three separate stories are all well-drawn, deeply textured pieces that demonstrate the concept of velocity as it applies to human lives. In short I would commend Miller for bringing all of her talents to bear in a way that brings something new to the medium of film.
Personal Velocity, based on Miller's book of short stories, drops us into the lives of three different women, at points in their lives that demonstrate the forces both external and internal that generate one's personal velocity. Put another way the momentum or lack of momentum (inertia) that waxes and wanes throughout the course of each and everyone's lives - perhaps the spin that results from choices made at pivotal moments. Perhaps the internal gravity that prevents us from getting off our asses at times when it is critical that we do.
The film is shot digitally which enhances the in-your-face effect of these tales, each of which are narrated by a male voice that one would imagine is something of authorial prose from Miller's point of view.
The first vignette stars Kyra Sedgewick as a woman who used the velocity of her powerful sexuality during her teens before settling happily into marriage, family and monogamy. We see what strength she demonstrates as a mother and how it can all tumble out from beneath her when her ill-tempered husband's abuse renders her useless both as a mother and a woman. She musters the courage to pack up the kids and a scant load of necessities and run. This is frightening and terribly lonesome flight and you feel every palpitation along with Sedgewick as she seeks and eventually manages to find help. Yet she doesn't trust the kindness of others and is miserable as a burden and in one of the film's most strangely heartbreaking scenes falls back on her sexual abilities - for no apparent reason other than to perhaps find out if it still works.
This is all the story we get, Miller leaves it to our imaginations to decide whether each character has the velocity to locate happiness against such odds.
The second vignette features Parker Posey as a cookbook editor, happily married one would suppose and living a modest, but charmed life of yuppy pleasures with a kind man whom she married because he made her feel safe. Upon getting married she left Law School (ostensibly as a means to get her father's goat). Posey's problem is that her velocity is always going at a higher idle than her husband's passive easily contented lifestyle. She knows that she cannot be faithful to him and frequently is not, and when she gets an opportunity to edit a real book by an exciting new author (Joel de la Fuente.) Their work soon leads to a relationship and, though she desperately wishes not to hurt her husband she leaves him. It can truly be said that Posey plays an unlikable character and as a result hers is the least compelling of the three chapters, but it is also true that her inclination toward infidelity is one that more of us can relate to than the others and this underdistancing perhaps puts us ill-at-ease with this woman.
The last vignette turns out to be the most moving and powerful - largely because of a great performance by Fairuza Balk. Balk ran away from home at an early age and is presently in a good relationship with a Haitian man, (Seth Gilliam), whom she met in the park and put a roof over her head. After witnessing a violent accident, she sets out to reconcile with her mother (as she has also learned that she is to be a mother herself). On her journey she picks up a hitch-hiker (Lou Taylor Pucci) - nothing but a young boy who appears sickly and in a motel room Balk discovers that the boy has been savagely beaten. He doesn't talk much, but his eyes convey some sort of great need for mothering. And quite surprisingly to Balk she discovers within herself great maternal instincts. With his help, she finds the strength to make some tough choices of her own. This segment has the best performances, both from Fairuza and the young boy. After she's made her decision regarding the pregnancy, her call home to her boyfriend is something you'll feel down to your soul. It's tough not to tear-up during such a real moment.
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