||Rebecca Miller, the writer-director of "Personal Velocity," is the daughter of Arthur Miller, and perhaps it's merely this connection to an icon which explains the highly positive reaction the film has elicited in some quarters. Or maybe it's the politically correct feminist theme that the tripartite picture, based on several tales from Miller's short story collection, conveys. But it's actually an unwieldy attempt to transfer three of them onto celluloid; with a ream of stilted narration obviously lifted from the tome, "Personal Velocity" comes across like an audio book to which photos have been rather unnecessarily added. While there are flashes of power here, the film never manages to escape its literary roots and become truly cinematic.
The first segment of the anthology centers on Delia (Kyra Sedgwick), a submissive lower-class wife who finally leaves her abusive husband (David Warshofsky) with her children after an especially traumatic altercation. The episode portrays some of the aspects of her unhappy life in flashback while detailing how she gets a waitress job with the aid of an old school acquaintance and deals with a randy young customer (Leo Fitzpatrick). Segue to New York City, where Greta (Parker Posey), a junior editor at a publishing firm, is picked by a wildly successful novelist (Joel de la Fuente) to work with him on his new book. Once again flashbacks are used to indicate her difficult past as the daughter of a powerful attorney (Ron Liebman) who left her mother; now her unexpected success leads her to wonder whether she'll decide to abandon her sweet but ineffectual spouse (Tim Guinee), a magazine fact-checker still working on his doctoral dissertation. Finally, we're introduced to Paula (Fairuza Balk), a punkish girl afraid to tell her boyfriend (Seth Gilliam) that she's pregnant. She takes off on a drive to visit her father and picks up Kevin (Lou Taylor Pucci), a bedraggled young man, along the highway; she finds that he's been abused and, overcome by maternal feeling, wants to take him in. As it turns out, however, he has other ideas. There's a last-ditch effort to tie the three tales loosely together, but it seems halfhearted; essentially they remain quite separate.
Obviously the various stories are intended to meditate on what it means to be a wife and mother, and how a woman can maintain her individuality within the context of those roles. But its fragmentary, disjointed structure, Miller's propensity to use lots of visual tricks (including periodic groups of still photographs), and the archly knowing narration all make it seem awfully affected and allusive. It's redeemed somewhat by the quality of acting. Sedgwick gives an honest, direct performance that doesn't grovel for sympathy, Posey nicely depicts Greta's increasing urbanity and self-confidence, and Balk does a reasonably good job of portraying the somewhat sullen, sensitive Paula. The picture is essentially a three-women show, with nobody else having much to do, but Leibman and Wallace Shawn (as Greta's publisher) milk their short scenes for all they're worth, and Pucci is quietly intriguing as the abused Kevin. (Fitzpatrick, on the other hand, should have been advised to tone things down.) On the technical side, the picture is typical of digital video product--which is to say it's sometimes a trial for the eyes.
It may be that "Personal Velocity" will carry greater punch for female viewers than for a male one. But from this corner, though it's only 85 minutes long, it doesn't move fast enough.