Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 10/12/04 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.
Written and directed by Rebecca Miller, that is based on her novel, Personal Velocity: Three Portraits is the story of three different women in three different parts of their lives as they each explore their own idea of womanhood. Narrated by John Ventimiglia, the film explores these three different stories that each follow three different women struggling to find their roles in life. Starring Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, and Fairuza Balk in the three stories along with Ron Liebman, Leo Fitzpatrick, Seth Gilliam, Wallace Shawn, and Patti D'Arbanville. Personal Velocity: Three Portraits is an exhilarating yet mesmerizing film from Rebecca Miller.
Delia (Kyra Sedgwick) is a housewife to her abusive husband Kurt (David Warshofsky) while raising three kids in John (Nick Clubber), May (Nicole Murphy), and Claire (Sarah Morf). Though Delia's life was an extraordinary one as a teenager where she had the reputation of controlling her sexuality while living with her hippie father (Brian Tarantina). All of that changed when she married Kurt as their marriage turned sour as he would start to abuse her. Deciding to leave Kurt and take the children with her, they drive around upstate New York to seek shelter as Delia reconnects with her old friend Fay (Mara Hobel). Despite getting a job as a waitress and gaining the attraction of the cook's son Mylert (Leo Fitzpatrick), Delia still tries to deal with her new role as well as her relationship with Kurt.
Greta (Parker Posey) is a cookbook editor who is asked by her editor (Mr. Gelb) Wallace Shawn) to edit an upcoming novel for acclaimed writer Thavi (Joel de la Fuente) as Greta sees this as a big moment for her to be successful. The new job has Greta hoping to gain the approval of her big-shot attorney father Avram Herskovitz (Ron Liebman) whom she had a testy relationship with. Attending a party with her husband/New York Times editor Lee (Tim Guinee) and their freind Oscar (Josh Phillip Weinstein), Oscar is surprised by her news though Greta becomes confused by this new success. Notably as she has feelings for Thavi, that reminds her about an affair she had with a guy named Max (Ben Shankman), while pondering if she can succeed on her own terms.
Paula (Fairuza Balk) has just witnessed a murder of a Norwegian man she just met as she flees from that and her own tumultuous relationship with Vincent (Seth Gilliam). Driving towards upstate New York, she picks up a young runaway named Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci) as she stops at the home of her mother Celia (Patti D'Abranville) whom she hadn't seen in years. Still reeling from the way that relationship got fractured, Paula recalls what happened when she ran away from home and later met Vincent as Celia makes an attempt to reconnect. After calling Vincent, Paula feels lost as she also tries to deal with this young runaway she's starting to care for.
While episodic films in recent years haven't been done lately and sometimes, there would be stories that would end up overshadowing one another or everything else in the movie. Miller however, managed to figure out everything since all three stories are different yet are filled with similar themes and character backgrounds while a subplot involving the murder Paula was involved is actually heard in TV or radio in the stories of Delia and Greta. Miller as a writer manages to find a narrative where all three stories can come together without any sense of inconsistency or even in its non-linear approaches to the stories of its protagonists.
The directing style Miller presented isn&'t just fascinating in its digital photography but there would be use of stop-motion camera frame shots, slow, fast-motion styles, and how everything moves with just a small camera. It's a film that has its own style while remaining true to Miller's carefully structured screenplay. Helping Miller with that vision is cinematographer Ellen Kuras who brings a dreamy, video-transfer style in night scenes involving Delia's road trip away from Kurt while presenting different tones for each characters. While Paula's story has a bit of a grainy, dreamy feel, Greta has a more polished yet still digital video style with wonderful camera framework while Delia's story is set in a more monochrome like style. The credit really goes to Miller and Kuras for presenting a movie that has a distinctive visual look.
With additional credit going to production designer Judy Becker for the film's look of Upstate New York and NYC and editor Sabine Hoffman for giving each story a 25-30 minute time frame. The film also has a wonderful, melancholy film score from Michael Rohatyn for giving the movie an electronic, sparkling synthesizer track that shows the women moving in their in own worlds while there's different types of music in the background including a country song that accompanies Delia's rural background.
The film's supporting cast is very spot-on with Seth Gilliam, David Warshofsky, and Tim Guinee in the respective roles of the men the women are with where Gilliam plays the frustrated boyfriend, Warshofsky as the abusive husband, and Guinee as the aloof one. Even the role of parents from Brian Tarantina, Ron Liebman, and Patti D'Arbanville are well written in the small time they're given with each, a different subtext to their performances in their failures to communicate with their children. While the film's supporting cast is small, there are some great performances from Mara Hobel, Leo Fitzpatrick, Wallace Shawn, Joel de la Fuente, Josh Phillip Weinstein, Ben Shankman, and Lou Taylor Pucci all providing strong performances that helps carry the film's story for its protagonist.
There is really no clear winner for who handled the best performance since Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, and Fairuza Balk all bring in great, complex performances to their respective roles. Balk, who often had played more of the bad girl roles, gives her best performance to date as the clueless, generous runaway Paula with her motherly approach in her scenes with Pucci. Balk also showed a desperate dramatic range in her phone call scene with Gilliam while we see the depths of troubles and her desperation to be loved in a defiant, sympathetic performance. Sedgwick is amazing in the role of Delia as the abused housewife who has enough yet at the same time, it seems like she wants more since she's in love with her husband still. Sedgwick had the more difficult role since her character started off with a sense of power until she got married and as her story develops, we see her regaining some strength yet the physical and mental abuse from her husband is still in tact. This is truly Sedgwick's most powerful performance to date.
Parker Posey gives another great performance in the role of Greta, who is a woman desperate for acceptance from the world yet she's the one character that the most unlikable because of her affairs and desperation to be successful yet there's a sympathy for her because she's trying to win her father's acceptance. Posey had the most accessible role but she made sure it's one women could relate to while we also see a sense of self-loathing right at the end of her story. Truly, this is more of a film of how women are defining themselves in a climate where there are moments of feminism yet there's also sadness behind them. It's really a character-driven story that shows women in different climates trying to ponder their own futures with its three main actress giving spot-on performances.
Personal Velocity: Three Portraits is a marvelous yet enchanting film from Rebecca Miller. Featuring outstanding lead performances from Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, and Fairuza Balk, it's a truly hypnotic and entrancing film thanks in part to Ellen Kuras' stylish digital photography. It's also a film that really speaks out for women's struggle to find their place in the world told in three different ideas that each share similar themes of individuality. In the end, Personal Velocity: Three Portraits is an extraordinary film from Rebecca Miller.
Rebecca Miller Films: (Angela) - The Ballad of Jack & Rose - The Private Lives of Pippa Lee - Maggie's Plan - Arthur Miller: Writer
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