A winner at Sundance thanks in part to Ellen Kuras’s loving cinematography, Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity culls three woman-centric vignettes from her own short-story collection’s crop of bohemians, patricians, and hand-to-mouthers. The opener, “Delia,” involves a former high school hand-job queen and current battered wife on the run; the final third, “Paula,” a Tompkins Square punker fleeing the city amid a welter of trauma. But Miller, daughter of Arthur, only really sounds at home when she chucks the rebel po’-folk clichés and slides into some pinchy Manolos. Only in the comparatively breezy, urbane “Greta”—featuring Parker Posey as a 28-year-old cookbook editor and Harvard Law washout driven to either punish or please her famous defense-lawyer dad—does it feel like there’s something personal rather than sociological at stake.
Service-class roles tend to signify “important work”—just ask Jennifer Aniston and Kim Basinger. “Delia,” Miller’s post-feminist Burning Bed, takes on a writing-workshop piety. Kyra Sedgwick is too vulnerable as the titular tough cookie. And John Ventimiglia’s narration about Delia’s “strong, heavy ass that looked perfect in blue jeans” comes off a bit leering, though Sedgwick does work those jeans like her equity membership depends on it. Delia’s twisted emotional liberation—charity-pumping a derelict teen—seems more device than epiphany. Fairuza Balk scowls through her turn as secretly pregnant Paula, who drives through slapping rain, badly beaten boy hitchhiker in tow, to visit her mom upstate after a guy she meets is hit by a car and killed. Her nurturance plays off her fear of the child inside, and his enigmatic silence recalls the creepy inner lives of children, the subject of Miller’s atmospheric if overlong 1995 debut film Angela.
Miller’s women share the affliction of scars left by dominating fathers. But the stories lean toward self-importance, and used verbatim in heavy voice-over, they register as a parody of spareness. Posey is the only one who has fun puncturing the solemnity, turning the real surreal in a softer version of her usual attack. She infuses the slightest actions and exchanges with a mega-verve that bucks the weight of the narration, conveying Greta’s terror at possibly being “one of those children not gifted or tough enough to survive so close to the brilliant light of her parents’ world.” Married to a humble fact checker who Dad says doesn’t have “size,” Greta gets her big break working with a hot young novelist. And as she slowly edits her husband out of her life and reclaims her birthright, we get a sense of the real anxiety of existing in the shadow of a famous father.
“Focal Points: Ellen Kuras Shines New Light on DV” by Anthony Kaufman