Personal Velocity

Fairuza Balk in Personal Velocity: Three Portraits.

At a time when “indie” means million-dollar budgets and A-list stars, Personal Velocity takes the genre back to its modest origins. Small, delicate and deeply incisive, it eschews the flashy self-awareness typical of independent fare these days and draws viewers in the old-fashioned way – with a well-crafted story and exceptional performances.

To be precise, Personal Velocity offers a trio of stories, each concerning a woman facing difficult decision.  The stories are only loosely connected; each one capturing an internal awakening caused, directly or indirectly, by the events chronicled in a TV news report.

In “Delia,” a young mother (Kyra Sedgwick) contemplates leaving her abusive husband. A lifetime of cruelty at the hands of others has chipped away at Delia’s humanity, leaving her so hardened she’s incapable even of expressing gratitude to the long-lost friend who comes to her aid (Maura Hobel, Mommie Dearest’s young Christina). By turns nail tough and pitifully helpless, Sedgwick delivers the best performance of her career.

Parker Posey plays the title character in “Greta,” and she, too, does an outstanding job in a role that could easily have been just another goofy character. Greta’s story is one of regret, but, interestingly, it’s regret for the future. As she considers cheating on her husband, Greta, an upwardly mobile editor, seems determined to destroy any happiness in her life. Her awareness of this fact can’t save her; she’s merely a horrified bystander observing her actions despite herself.

In “Paula,” a confused girl (Fairuza Balk) leaves home hoping to escape the emotional pain caused by a recent traumatic accident. With no destination in mind, however, she doesn’t get very far. Unlike the women of the first two stories, Paula is, at heart, an optimist, constantly searching for cosmic signs indicating things will change. Eventually, though, she’s forced to decide for herself what she should do.

Each of the brief and insightful tales packs quite an emotional punch. Fuzzy, frenetic hand-held digital camerawork lends a documentary-like feel to the action. While the weird angles, stop motion photography and jump cuts could have come across as affected or pretentious, they don’t.  Instead, they give the film a dreamlike quality perfectly befitting the intimate personal accounts being told. The film, based on writer-director Rebecca Miller’s acclaimed book of short stories, never strays far from its literary roots. But here, that’s a good thing: excellent performances combined with excellent stories make for an excellent little film.

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