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PERSONAL VELOCITY

Rebecca Miller, daughter of Arthur Miller, writes beautifully, with precise detail and pitch-perfect tone, in her collection of stories Personal Velocity. That’s part of the problem with her film adaptation of the same. The collection comprises seven tales, each titled with the name of the female protagonist. For the film, Miller has taken three of these, stitched them loosely together (this is no Short Cuts, but pay attention to that overheard news story about the freak accident), and saturated them with a male voiceover. (Why male? To signify the patriarchal usurping of women’s own stories? So people won’t think it’s a chick flick?) So much for the writing-workshop bromide about showing not telling — here we’ve got both.

What’s being shown and told is first the story of Delia (Kyra Sedgwick), who seems to be enjoying a pleasant dinner with her kids and her husband until the latter slams her head repeatedly onto the table. Delia flees first to a shelter, than to the home of a high-school acquaintance who secretly hates her. Working as a waitress, she finds empowerment by giving a skittery punk a hand job.

Feminism has certainly changed over the years. You’d think the ideal heroine would be Greta (Parker Posey), a Manhattan book editor whose career takes off when she works on the new novel of a hot young writer. But that only throws her into paroxysms of guilt, especially when she ponders cheating on her white-bread husband. Complex, witty, with unexpected pathos, this is the film’s best episode, worth it if only for the shot of Posey skipping down the street in a new pair of Manolo Blahniks.

But then there’s Paula (Fairuza Balk), a pregnant punkette. Fresh from a spat with her boyfriend, she takes to the road and picks up a hitchhiker. She’s driven by portents, by sudden, horrible twists of fate, and by a barrage of disconnected associations that make her want to write it all down. So why does she end up making the most conventional choice of all three characters? In her filmmaking as much as in her writing, Miller demonstrates a technical skill akin to glibness; too bad her creative velocity seems set on cruise control. (85 minutes)

BY PETER KEOUGH

Issue Date: December 5 - 12, 2002
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