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(2002) (Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey) (R)

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Drama: Three women try to find their way through life in three separate short stories.
Delia (KYRA SEDGWICK) is a woman who once used sex as power over various males, but is now married to Kurt Wurtzle (DAVID WARSHOFSKY) with three kids. When Kurt severely beats her in front of the kids - much like her father, Pete Shunt (BRIAN TARANTINA), did with her mother - she hits the road.

After staying in a shelter, she calls up a former high school classmate, Fay (MARA HOBEL), and asks if she and her kids can stay with her and her husband, Greg (CHRISTOPHER FITZGERALD), for a while. She eventually gets a job waiting tables where she must put up with the leering flirtatiousness of Mylert (LEO FITZPATRICK), the short order cook's son.

Greta (PARKER POSEY) is a cookbook editor for a publishing house where her boss, Mr. Gelb (WALLACE SHAWN), has just informed her that author Thavi Matola (JOEL DE LA FUENTE) wants her to edit his book. She's excited about that and reportedly tells her husband, Lee (TIM GUINEE), that Thavi is gay to allay any potential suspicion.

Coming from a broken family - her father, Avram (RON LEIBMAN), left her mother, Maroushka (KALUSKA POVENTUD) - Greta has a problem with fidelity. Not only does she fool around with Thavi and Max (BEN SHENKMAN), a guy she met in a coffee shop, but she also had an affair with her former boyfriend, Oscar (JOSH PHILIP WEINSTEIN), right before her wedding to Lee.

Paula (FAIRUZA BALK) is a troubled young woman and former runaway. Not only has she recently found out she's pregnant by her live-in boyfriend, Vincent (SETH GILLIAM), but she's also just left the scene of a horrible accident that killed a man she just met. Although she hasn't spoken to her mother, Celia (PATTI D'ARBANVILLE), in years due to her new boyfriend, Peter (DAVID PATRICK KELLY), Paula heads there to see her. Along the way, she picks up a teenage hitchhiker, Kevin (LOU TAYLOR PUCCI), who appears to have been tortured and tries to help him.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I have to admit that I've never been a big fan of anthology style movies. They're the ones that have various loosely connected but otherwise distinct stories with separate characters, settings and/or times. While these sorts of films in the past have usually fallen into the horror genre (such as "Twilight Zone - The Movie" and "Creepshow"), they occasionally show up in straight dramas including last year's "Storytelling."

Although such films can contain decent material and stories, the short form structure is disruptive at best. An analogy is being at a party or gathering and getting to know people and becoming engaged or even engrossed with them and their story. Then you're suddenly whisked away to another setting and have to start anew with a different set of people and their tales.

That might not bother some viewers, particularly when the stories and characters eventually connect in some fashion beyond theme. They usually don't, however, resulting in stop and go momentum that I personally don't favor.

Such is the case with "Personal Velocity." Based on writer/director Rebecca Miller's book of short stories, this low budget effort follows the tale of three distinct and unrelated women who flee or leave part of their lives due to various developments that are and aren't under their control.

While some of the stories are intriguing - particularly the first two - the changes in characters and plot are too disruptive. For those anticipating or wondering how the characters and their stories will eventually interact or affect the others, the lack of that will likely be disappointing.

Instead, the only the only common thread beyond the escapism theme is an unseen car accident. It's referenced in all three stories, but only really impacts one character (unlike the similar plot device in the far superior and less disjointed "Amores Perros").

Former actress turned filmmaker Miller ("Angela") also employs the narrative device involving a narrator - John Ventimglia - throwing in trivial and past details of the characters lives - which are seen in flashback footage - to help explain and/or examine the characters and what makes them tick. I actually liked that tactic, although it's been done better before in films such as "Y Tu Mama Tambien" and especially "Amelie."

As far as the stories themselves, the first - featuring Kyra Sedgwick ("What's Cooking?" "Phenomenon") as a battered wife who's had enough and hits the road with the kids - is the most powerful. Sedgwick is particularly effective and believable in the part, while supporting performances by the likes of Mara Hobel ("Broadway Damage," TV's "Roseanne") and Leo Fitzpatrick ("Bubble Boy," "Storytelling") are solid.

The second story, however, is the most intriguing. In it, independent film queen Parker Posey ("Best in Show," "You've Got Mail") plays a literary editor who isn't sure of what she wants in life or how to edit it for herself. I've always found Posey mesmerizing to watch, and while she's playing a character who's clearly not the most admirable on display, that's certainly the case again here.

The third story - which is the least successful and my least favorite - has the most potential. It follows the character played by Fairuza Balk ("Almost Famous," "The Waterboy") who's hit the road after 1) learning that she's pregnant and 2) having witnessed and nearly been in a horrific car accident. She then picks up a runaway -- Lou Taylor Pucci (making his debut) - and eventually learns that he's apparently been tortured. There's a great deal of compelling material present, but for some reason it just didn't work for me despite solid performances.

Had the stories and characters eventually come together and connected in some shocking, fascinating or at least interesting fashion, I might have liked the overall effort better than I did. Featuring decent to strong performances and stories, the film has its moments. Yet, the segmented/fragmented format undermines the effort, no matter the loose, connective theme. "Personal Velocity" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed November 12, 2002 / Posted December 6, 2002

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