Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 3:17 pm 
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A film that defines what independent means

"Personal Velocity" is a kind of omnibus film, three stories, each quite distinct, but all by the same author, Rebecca Miller, who has adapted them and directed them for her own movie, directing three different women in the main roles in each.

Kyra Sedgwick is Delia, a slut, or a reformed high school slut who married a wife beater and finally wakes up, escapes to a haven for battered women, and then takes off with her kids upstate to stay with a school friend and work as a waitress. At the story's end, she's back to satisfying young men, but now very, very perfunctorily, and with the boundaries clearly established. Ms. Sedgewick has the sexiness and grandeur of Jessica Lange but not quite the strength: this is a wonderful role for her.

The only trouble with this movie is that each segment is so short.

Parker Posey in the next one is Greta, a sophisticated, driven woman with a powerful famous lawyer father and a prime Eastern establishment education married to a nice guy who's a New Yorker fact checker and whose family of origin look grain fed and wholesome. As the story begins, she pulls ahead when a hot Asian novelist picks her to move away from her cookbook editing to thin out the "fat" ruthlessly from his new MS. Before long, the novel is out, and she's a huge success, dumping her original publishing house and taking the hot author (now a beau) with her---and about to dump her husband. She admits she has always had a weakness in the area of fidelity.

The third segment some people have told me they think is the weakest. I guess that's because it's about an unformed girl, Paula, a runaway, played by the talented, odd Fairuza Balk, who has settled down in New York with a nice Haitian man, but runs away again when a freak accident causes another man she's walking down the street with to get hit by a car and killed. She spins off in her car going toward the country, and picks up a teenage boy (Lou Taylor Pucci), himself a runaway, who is sweet and cute but turns out to have been horribly abused. They drop by her mom's house (her step dad is very cold), and then she takes the boy to a motel, where she treats his wounds. Next day, he steals her car from her at lunchtime, and she heads back to her boyfriend, chastened and apparently eager to keep the child beginning to grow in her womb.

What makes these stories so good is that they're raw and not easy to take, but they still manage a lightness and detachment, partly through a male voiceover narration for each character. Each story creates a vivid picture of something you can hardly avoid calling "life" as risky and malleable, dangerous but full of exciting highs and lows. Each character is ruthlessly and incisively delineated, including the minor ones; indeed, no one is "minor," as the presence of people like Wallace Shawn (as Greta's boss) and Ron Leibman (as her father) in mere cameos makes clear.

Is the author the best person to direct a film of her own tales? We'd have to decide that on a case-by-case basis; but Rebecca Miller has achieved a happy balance here, and this tough but unassuming movie belongs with the absolute cream of the year's American independent crop. If there is such a thing as an essential independent film, this is what that means and why the distinction from more "mainstream" films is worthwhile.

January 5, 2003
┬ęChris Knipp 2003

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