Personal Velocity

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Personal Velocity Movie Poster Image
Story about life's turning points is not for kids.
  • R
  • 2002
  • 85 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Strong female characters.

Violence

Brief but graphic violence, tense family scenes, reference to child abuse

Sex

Sexual references and situations, including teen sex, masturbation and infidelity

Language

Very strong language

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Smoking and drinking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this film depicts very mature themes, including domestic violence, drug use, sexual politics, infidelity, underage sexuality, runaway teens, and child abuse.

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What's the story?

With near perfect adherence to her original text, has adapted three short stories from her book Personal Velocity for this engaging film about life's turning points. Delia (Kyra Sedgwick) leaves her abusive husband in order to protect her three children; Greta (Parker Posey) leaves her milquetoast husband for her new career; and, Paula (Fairuza Balk) leaves childhood behind as she comes to terms with her pregnancy. Where they were discrete, the three stories are now tenuously linked by a narrative trick and geographical proximity to one another. Each of these characters has her own source of power, from Delia's sexuality to Greta's intellect to Paula's detachment, and each must use this power to attain her own "personal velocity". This shorthand term for personal development and self-definition is used by Greta's father, Avram (Ron Liebman), but is echoed in many aspects of the film. How personal velocity relates to unresolved issues with one's parents and lovers is a theme Miller "herself the daughter of Arthur Miller and wife of Daniel Day Lewis" investigates with a hungry curiosity.

Is it any good?

Although it makes some interesting insights, PERSONAL VELOCITY never quite gets up to speed. Director Rebecca Miller has transplanted her short, ambitiously descriptive sentences from page to screen, taking advantage of the often unflattering effect of shooting in grainy digital camera to mirror the warts-and-all descriptiveness of the text. Kyra Sedgwick clearly relishes the role of steely-eyed, Delia, who leaves the brutal Kurt (David Warshofsky) for a hard new life fending for her kids. Parker Posey plays Greta with a deft touch and apparent ease, providing the least-self-conscious of the storylines and some much needed levity. It is left to Fairuza Balk, who does an excellent job of projecting an iron will and feral impishness, to wrap up the stories with the sadly predictable "answer" to life's big questions. Have a baby.

This dramaturgical triptych is drawn with a surgeon's precision, clearly labeling each heroine with her individual attribute: Delia Shunt is Courage; Greta Herskovitz is Ambition; Paula Friedrich is Hope. Perhaps Miller fears that sentimentality will prevent her characters from being "bony, rough and true", but in taking a knife to the fat of emotions, she has left us a curiously lean dish.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how each character is influenced by her parents and by her past. If each character develops at her own "personal velocity" what does this mean for her relationships with those around her? This movie only touches on the male characters in each of the women's lives. Why might Miller chose to make these characters two-dimensional?

Movie details

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