Just because a movie is delicate and humane doesn’t mean it’s not an adventure. In Personal Velocity, the writer-director Rebecca Miller, adapting a trio of short stories from her 2001 collection, creates portraits of three highly distinct women, and virtually every second we spend with them tingles with discovery. By the end of each story, you feel as if you know the heroine’s moods, her wiles, her past, her present, and the change she’s in the midst of making without knowing it — in short, her entire life up to that moment. Personal Velocity has a no-frills docu-Dogma plainness, yet Miller lingers on invisible, nearly psychic nuances, leaping into digressions of memory and desire. She boxes these women’s souls right open for us.
It helps that she’s working with a group of inspired actresses. Kyra Sedgwick has finally found the perfect role for her hard, squinty beauty. She plays a tough-as-a-rusty-nail yet deeply scarred working-class housewife who takes off with her kids to escape her violent husband. Even after she’s clear of the jerk, she’s numb, chained to a shadow existence defined and armored by sex. Sedgwick makes her redemption palpable — her cathartic moan of distress is the sound of someone being born.
Just when Parker Posey’s indie It Girl status was starting to look like a relic of the ’90s, she comes through with the richest performance of her career. She’s still Adorable Parker, with her ironic version of the young Katharine Hepburn’s coltish beauty, but here, playing a Manhattan cookbook editor whose suppressed hunger for something more is expressed in casual infidelity, she uses her bubbly charm to tap the secret spirit of someone newly alchemized by the discovery of ambition.
Finally, Fairuza Balk, that neurotic hellion, is memorable as a tormented punkette whose encounter with a boy in even more hideous pain than she cleanses her of nihilism. All three of the women in Personal Velocity lunge for, and find, the essential in life. As a filmmaker, so does Rebecca Miller.