By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Personal Velocity, a trilogy of tenuously linked films based on a short-story collection by young writer-director Rebecca Miller (daughter of playwright Arthur), tells of three women navigating their way out from under problematic men and taking charge of their lives. Ordinarily this would be enough to make me cut and run for the exits, but Miller, like her contemporary Nicole Holofcener in the recent Lovely and Amazing, is unexcited by feminist orthodoxy. She‘s too interested in who her women are and what they might become to worry about what they should be. The strongest of the stories is Paula, in which a very good Fairuza Balk plays a kohl-eyed, troubled teen thrown further into crisis by a narrow miss in a car accident. Greta, about a cookbook editor (”rotten with ambition“) whose big career break throws her comfortable marriage out of whack, will get the most press attention because it stars indie queen Parker Posey, mercifully not wringing her hands. The weakest tale, Delia, also boasts by far the most incisive performance of the three: Kyra Sedgwick, as a sassy proletarian mother of three who frees herself from an abusive marriage, shows the same forthright, incorruptible common touch as the early Michelle Pfeiffer in, say, Frankie and Johnnie.
Miller writes in short, bald sentences, brushing in her characters with a few sketchy movements. The strategy lends itself naturally both to the short story and cinema, and Miller is a skillful interpreter of her own work. She’s also well-matched with the gifted cinematographer Ellen Kuras, who could make impressionist poetry out of The Teletubbies if so instructed. Then again, digital video -- in this instance, for better rather than worse -- tends to make everything look like a Monet knockoff. Each of the films has a different look: a misty light for Delia, a sharper Manhattan edge for Greta and rain-soaked shades of gray for Paula. Liberal use is made of freeze-frame and flashbacks as a kind of emotional chronology, yet it‘s precisely in this regard that the characters feel tentative and half-formed. I’m still trying to figure out why this perfectly serviceable movie won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance last year: I felt much the same about Miller‘s 1995 first film, Angela, another Sundance hit that showed promise, yet seemed undercooked. Both movies really seemed to wow the young female audience, and I wonder whether this is precisely because the women they represent, for all Miller’s intention to show them bringing themselves up to speed, appear so spacy and unfinished, so imprisoned on their surfaces. They offer us nothing to read between the lines.
RABBIT PROOF FENCE | Directed by PHILLIP NOYCE | Written by CHRISTINE OLSEN, from the book by Doris Pilkington Garimara | Produced by NOYCE and OLSEN | Released by Miramax Films | At Laemmle‘s Sunset 5, Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex, and Westside Pavilion
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