Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Personal Velocity

It took nearly 70 years, but the iconic and overwhelmingly sensual image of a girl on a swing in Jean Renoir's classic pastoral A Day In The Country has been reduced in Rebecca Miller's Personal Velocity to the most banal signifier of female liberation imaginable. And that's just in the opening shot. Based on a triptych of Miller's short stories, each a minor-key portrait of a woman in transition, the film repeatedly falls back on this sort of precious imagery as the adhesive that bonds these otherwise unrelated heroines. Taken together, the stories are a watershed of feminist clichés, composed of half-hour sections that are too tidy by half, and overlaid with writerly voiceovers that suggest an author too enamored of her own narration. But one salvageable piece emerges in the middle: a sharp and acerbically funny segment that seems written specifically for Parker Posey, whose withering line readings bat away any false sentiments that Miller might attach to them. Like the women in the other stories, Posey feels suffocated by her relationship to a flawed man, in her case a dull young New Yorker fact-checker (Tim Guinee) who's laboring on a work in progress that's as constipated as his personality. Resigned to her low-level job editing cookbooks for a publishing house, Posey gets an unexpected boost to her career and her love life when her shrewd, merciless cutting earns her the chance to work with a hot young Laotian novelist (Joel de la Fuente). Miller can't resist a few strained writing metaphors—the poor husband is likened to a "redundant paragraph"—but Posey delights in her character's freedom to behave badly, even while expressing subtle undercurrents of pain and regret. The segment's bookends are both disposable, starting with Kyra Sedgwick as a sexy housewife who escapes an abusive marriage and finds temporary lodging with frumpy high-school acquaintance Mara Hobel. While finding her feet, Sedgwick gets a waitress job and instinctively reverts back to her days as the class tramp, taking up with the first pimply teenager (Leo Fitzpatrick) who grabs her attention. The last story centers on Fairuza Balk, a newly pregnant urbanite who leaves her Haitian boyfriend in Brooklyn while she journeys upstate to see her estranged mother (Patti D'Arbanville) after two years away. Her maternal instincts are all-too-neatly aroused when she picks up another troubled runaway (Lou Taylor Pucci) with physical and emotional wounds. The crystal-clear psychology of the Sedgwick and Balk portraits may have as much to do with length as clumsy writing, because Miller tries to shoehorn too much information and incident into a small space. Though it somehow snagged the top prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Personal Velocity's pieces lack the economy and suggestiveness of good short stories, let alone the thematic weight of three tales working together to form something greater. For reasons of time and association, Posey's standout segment would be better viewed between two long smoke breaks.