Close your eyes and picture a map. Now, imagine a glowing line, starting from your point of birth and tracing a path on that map for everywhere you’ve been throughout your life. We all have these theoretical “life paths,” whether 95% of that path ping-pongs less than fifty miles from our place of birth, or whether we’ve traveled around the world; our path circling the globe like electrons orbiting an atom’s nucleus. Delia (Kyra Sedgwick), Greta (Parker Posey) and Paula (Fairuza Balk), the three women in director Rebecca Miller’s moving triptych “Personal Velocity,” have their own path too; each as unique and as complex as their fingerprints.
Delia Shunt has always made the most of her body. Abandoned by her mother as a young teenager, she learned to use her power over men to compensate for the absence of love in her life. Which is simply another way of saying that she became the unofficial high school slut as she grew up with her pothead father Pete (Brian Tarantina). For a brief period of time after she met Kurt (David Warshofsky), who couldn’t stand the thought of anyone else touching his Delia, she thought she had found love at last. Now years later, most of the touching consists of Kurt beating his wife in front of their three kids. Summoning up a courage that’s totally different from her outward toughness, Delia packs up the kids and sets off for a new beginning; one that bears an uncomfortable, yet oddly appropriate resemblance to her teen years.
Greta occupies the other end of the spectrum. She disappointed her father Avram (Ron Liebman), a powerful attorney, by dropping out of law school after discovering he’d been having an affair. Estranged from her father and following her mother’s death, Greta works as a lowly cookbook editor for Mr. Kelb (Wallace Shawn) at a small publishing firm. She’s reasonably content with her sweet and simple yet maddeningly unambitious husband Lee (Tim Guinee); or at least she was until she received an out of the blue offer to edit the new book from novelist Thavi Matoli (Joel de la Fuente). A woman with fidelity issues to begin with, Greta suddenly faces a harrowing decision between her adoring husband and the renewed burning of ambition.
Somewhere between these two lies Paula (Fairuza Balk). Back on her feet after running away from home, thanks in no large part to her boyfriend Vincent (Seth Gilliam), she finds herself on the run again after another personal crisis followed by a brush with death. She picks up Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci), a forlorn young hitchhiker, and discovers that he’s been horribly beaten. As she nurses him back to health, the experience awakens a slumbering maternal instinct the troubled young woman never knew she had.
Adapted from her own collection of short stories, director Rebecca Miller’s “Personal Velocity” packs a powerful punch. Each of these three sections is totally unique, yet all carry the potent undercurrent of their main characters’ strength thanks primarily to the riveting performances turned in by Sedgwick, Posey and Balk. The main distraction here is the unfortunate decision to shoot in DV, which lends an unavoidable air of cheapness to the whole affair. These people and these stories deserved better than that.
That being said, “Personal Velocity” is an intensely moving and oftentimes haunting film; a compelling look at the unique life paths of three totally different women.