- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

The evil that men do: They beat, they bore, they impregnate. In Rebecca Miller's "Personal Velocity," a trilogy of short films, women have to put up with the burdens of their biology and the men who, by definition, it seems, further complicate matters.
The film, Miss Miller's second directorial feature, is based on her collection of short stories. It's a rough and spunky look at three New York women: a childless, well-to-do Manhattan cookbook editor; a pregnant, working-class Brooklynite; and an upstate mother of three fleeing an abusive husband (played by an icily convincing David Warshofsky).
Each woman is struggling to find her "personal velocity," the organic pace of her personal evolution.
It might not be pretty, but it sure is captivating.
If these gals the A Team: Greta, Paula and Delia have anything in common, it's their fitful modernity: They're each highly sexualized; they grope uncertainly for independence; children (having them or not) are problematic; and they have use for men but could do without them.
Only one Paula (Fairuza Balk), the punkish, bighearted Brooklynite is likable.
Greta, played by the typically luminous oddball, Parker Posey, is selfish and sleazy. The prep-schooled, Ivy League-educated daughter of a high-powered New York attorney, she's "rotten with ambition," dissatisfied, to say the least, with the amount of time she spends looking at cookbooks.
The compulsively promiscuous Delia (Kyra Sedgwick) squanders any sympathy her domestic strife earns her. Not even the catchily corny theme song that punctuates her scenes the mid-'80s country-Western hit by Mel McDaniels, "Baby's Got Her Blue Jeans On" can charm Delia back into the audience's bosom.
Shot cheaply on digital video, "Personal Velocity" is an interesting movie to see. A former professional painter, Miss Miller employs lots of auteur touches, such as still-life shots and abstract flashbacks. She also casts each segment in different palettes and carefully jibes the camera movement with her characters' interior lives.
Delia moves in a raw, sepia-toned backdrop, making her look like a documentary subject. Miss Sedgwick is aggressively sexy mad, bad and dangerous to know.
The camera stays mostly still for Greta, calmly framing her frenzied attempt to live just as she works: an editor's blue pencil always in hand, ready to redact the bad sentences her ho-hum husband (Tim Guinee), for example out of her life.
Paula, pregnant with the child of her Haitian boyfriend (Seth Gilliam), is frequently in your face, as the world is in hers. After narrowly avoiding a freak hit-and-run accident outside a Manhattan nightclub a plotline that thinly links the three segments she beats a retreat to her mother's house upstate.
On her way, she picks up a mysterious young male hitchhiker (Lou Taylor Pucci), who turns out, to Paula's intense horror, to have been badly abused and tortured.
What detracts from this movie's creative imagery is the intrusion of a narrator (John Ventimiglia), who presumably reads from Miss Miller's original text.
The director, daughter of playwright Arthur Miller, and photographer Inge Morath (who died last January), is better with pictures than with words. The narrative excerpts, mediocre by literary fiction standards, are a cross between the thumping brevity of Hemingway and the crudeness of Philip Roth.
The point is to give the audience a kind of omniscience, a meta-understanding of what motivates these women. It's too bad Miss Miller couldn't let her characters speak without the high-brow interruption; they're absorbing enough in their own right.
More specifically, each of their crises is absorbing enough.
Each of the women in "Velocity" is transformed by crisis because crisis is actual. For Delia, getting her head slammed against the kitchen table is real, as is the empowering pulse of promiscuity. The thrill of adultery for Greta, the anticipatory buzz of ditching her husband, are real. The life inside Paula's stomach, and her hitchhiking passenger's wounds, are real.
In the end, these women don't just flee from men; they're not defined by victimhood. Theirs are stories of self-driven but warped searches for their own messy integrity.
"Personal Velocity," therefore, is a bravely ugly movie.

TITLE: "Personal Velocity"
RATING: R (Profanity, domestic violence, brief nudity, simulated intercourse and fondling, blunt sexual themes)
CREDITS: Directed and written by Rebecca Miller. Produced by Gary Winick, Lemore Syvan and Alexis Alexanian.
RUNNING TIME: 85 minutes

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