also Opening: THE CHATEAU -- LOOKING FOR LEONARD -- RABBIT-PROOF FENCE -- VIZONTELE For details, see reviews. Rating: NNN
rebecca miller adapted her book of stories into a screenplay. Happens every day, though it's never recommended -- different disciplines, proximity risks, various ego traps. But then Miller went one step further. She directed her own script of her own book. This is rare, and usually disastrous. But amazingly, Personal Velocity works more often than not. It's a film of bold choices, most of which would have been worn smooth had they slipped into other hands.
Miller structures the piece as three separate stories. In Delia, Kyra Sedgwick is the small-town slut who grew into life under her husband's fist, then takes her kids and leaves home.
Parker Posey's Greta is a low-level book editor who finds sudden fame working with a hot novelist. This stokes her promiscuity and dooms her beige sweater of a husband.
And in Paula, Fairuza Balk is a smeary-eyed daughter who escapes a car accident and then picks up a hitchhiker who's bleeding from ritual scars.
Only the faintest echo connects these stories: a news report of the car accident. But each one follows a woman's long path toward a snap decision.
Personal Velocity feels like filmed fiction, which is a mixed blessing. First, it's driven by a voice-over narration that carries its own literary crackle. Interestingly, Miller has a man read the narration, though the characters and point of view are female. It's a choice you'd never find in White Oleander.
And Miller slips into flashbacks to illuminate character, as written fiction often does but drama discourages.
Personal Velocity is sometimes exhilarating to watch, though it never escapes the faults of its structure. It stops and starts, so it can't accumulate the momentum of one story told well. Because each story ends before it resolves dramatically, we enter the next one with a hangover from the last.
It takes real effort to become interested in a brand new central character a full hour into a movie. By the time Fairuza Balk mopes onto the screen, narrative exhaustion has set in.
PERSONAL VELOCITY written and directed by Rebecca Miller, from her novel, produced by Alexis Alexanian, Lemore Syvan and Gary Winick, with Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey and Fairuza Balk. An MGM-UA release. 86 minutes. Opens Friday (November 29). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies. Rating: NNN