Personal Velocity

on November 22, 2002 by Annlee Ellingson
   In the cinematic adaptation of her novel, director/writer Rebecca Miller has chosen three portraits from the book's original seven, slightly rearranged their order and added a story thread that links all three. Otherwise, the book couldn't have been adapted more faithfully for the screen: Reading Miller's novel after seeing her film is like paging through her script.

   Kyra Sedgwich stars as Delia, a tough, intimidating mother of three who since puberty has wielded her sexuality in her relationships with both men and women. As an adult, however, she finds herself in an abusive relationship. Swallowing her pride, she packs up the kids and starts a new life, but it's not until she reclaims her power that she can truly begin anew.

   Greta (Parker Posey), determined not to follow in her father's footsteps after a childhood of adoration shatters in the revelation of his infidelity, is eking out an average existence editing cookbooks when a hot new writer requests her specifically to work on his memoir. The close proximity to success and stardom threatens her relationship with her dependable, if unmotivated, husband and reveals that the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree, after all.

   Finally, Paula (Fairuza Balk) drives upstate to her mother's after a brush with death, picking up an adolescent hitchhiker along the way. Pregnant and fighting with her boyfriend, her encounter with the boy, while fleeting, inspires her to make a positive change her life.

   With each of her three protagonists, Miller eloquently captures the moment when a woman's life, out of a deep-seated, emotional need, is about to turn onto a different path. Her tone is detached, employing a pithy voiceover to run down the events of their lives matter-of-factly and allowing her characters' actions to speak for themselves.

   With the exception of Sedgwick, whose beauty is too aristocratic for the blue-collar role, Miller's casting is inspired: Posey personifies the restless energy of a Manhattanite dissatisfied in a lifestyle characterized by the ordinary, and Balk captures the panic of a young woman on the verge of a major life change.

   The recounting of these characters' stories is an example of a deft application of digital filmmaking. Miller and director of photography Ellen Kuras take advantage of the more flexible format to shoot their subjects in handheld close-up, lending an intimacy to the portraits. Yellow and blue hues soften the harsh tones digital sometimes has.

   And while Miller's screenplay is virtually an exact replica of her novel, there are cinematic touches that couldn't have been accomplished by the written word. During a flashback to Delia's childhood, the narrator speaks of her recently developed breasts, how "she felt removed from them." In the scene, Delia hangs falsies on the line, representing visually her relationship with her new appendages. And Greta's groping encounters with her new client are shown in fast motion, illustrating the length of their illicit relationship without hampering the pace of the film. Starring Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, Fairuza Balk and Ron Leibman. Directed and written by Rebecca Miller. Produced by Gary Winick, Lemore Syvan and Alexis Alexanian. A United Artists release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 85 min

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