June 10, 2023 at 4:10 am

Personal Velocity: Three Portraits (2002)

Personal Velocity: Three Portraits (2002)
Director: Rebecca Miller
Writer: Rebecca Miller
Stars: Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, Fairuza Balk


“Fate may deal girls a hard hand at birth, endowing them with a sexual allure that will bring out the best and the worst in their fathers, husbands and the odd assortment of boys and men to come across their path. However, Personal Velocity turns fate around, spot lighting the nature of a woman’s nature as a powerful card of her own design not to be underestimated when it’s in play.”

Sexuality determined Mary Lou’s path from the time she was born. She’s the baby in the ‘Blue Jeans’ song that drives men wild. “She can’t help it”; she just turns ’em on. She’s beautiful and powerful, destined to light a man’s fire and rouse his rage because she represents what he can’t have – control. Oh, not just control of her. Not even just control of her body or her feelings. She reminds him that he can’t have control period and, for that, he hates her. Mary Lou’s husband loves and hates her. He’s wild about her and, sometimes, he’s so wild that he hits her. Somehow, he thought if he had her all to himself, he would feel – and stay – on top of the world. But instead, she – and it is her all the way – lets him down. He can fall low down on a simple word from her, reduced to what he is without the illusion of dominance – just a man, not a god nor superman. Personal Velocity captures the moment when he falls, she shatters and life smatters, taking three kids along for the ride. It’s not pretty but the resilience of Mary Lou is awesome and, somehow, she lands on her feet.

For Gretchen, it was different. She was beautiful from birth but it was the brains inside her beauty that drove her powerful, famous lawyer father wild. He didn’t lift a hand against her; he simply withheld the loving hand of approval. She grew up shining back his light. Her frail mother, loveliness incarnate, faded as time passed and died at an early age after her husband humiliated her with an affair with his young legal associate. Oedipus on his head; the father kills the mother to have the daughter. The daughter picks a man far from her father’s kingdom, hoping to elude her mother’s fate. But, alas, Gretchen leapfrogs through corporate America, becoming so successful that an unexpected lust strikes her heart and lights up other men – yep, you guessed it, men just like dear old dad. As sweet and accepting as her husband is, she can no longer see herself with him forever. His sweetness reeks of loss, too close to the failure of her mother to keep her father’s devotion and too close to the fear of following her mother’s footsteps to an early death. Gretchen surprises herself and her father with her success, upsetting her rebellion against him and sending her on a road less traveled pleasing herself.

Paula is a runaway girl, having left a mom who married yet another abusive man once she divorced Paula’s abusive father. On the street, homeless in New York City, she is befriended by a large Haitian man who gives her one of those pears from the Partridge tree, loving her beyond her body to her soul. She radiates to his warmth, curling white inside black until she’s pregnant. Then she bolts; her odyssey toward emotional freedom deepens. She is drawn completely to the light, captivated by easy conversation with a blonde Norwegian who picks her up in a bar. Laughing, walking and talking like teens on an early Bob Dylan album cover, the Norwegian gets hit by a car that whips only him off the sidewalk to his death. Paula bolts again, driving all night to see a mother who doesn’t exist. She needs a sign, something to tell her what direction she’s going. As with the other young women, parental guidance is nowhere in sight while fate deals cards too fast.

The bizarre accident of the Norwegian’s death has played in the background on tv and radio in the previous two episodes with Mary Lou and Gretchen, obviously suggesting each young woman walks close to death and, not so obviously, suggesting the ante of the game is raised as she makes choices about the man she walks with. Paula must decipher her true path by an occurrence of random events that change in size and shape as quickly as if she were Alice in Wonderland. All three women feel lost, racing along a dangerous road of conflicting, switch back emotions. Their sexuality acts as a beacon of light in the dark, leading them toward an unknown destination being made up as they go along. When Paula calls her Haitian lover to ask for help, she breaks through the isolation each young woman suffers. When she gets an answer, one from him and one from deep inside her psyche where inner and outer worlds merge, she skips across the road to the other side.

The unique sexual nature of each one of the women featured in Personal Velocity drives her story. Mary Lou who is not terribly bright nor very clever has little but her exceptional sexuality going for her. And while she may have enjoyed having the upper hand with boys during high school, she falls prey to a husband who beats her to keep her down. When she can’t stand seeing her three children cowering in pain any longer, she gathers up the last shreds of her once reliable spirit and leaves him. Gretchen, by contrast, has brains, beauty and class going for her. But she tucks her sexuality under a cloak of poor self-esteem, marrying a man as far down the ladder from her powerful father as she can. When success as a book editor catapults her to fame and fortune, she finds herself highly sexualized and struggling with fidelity. She loves the sweet man she married but she’s drawn like a moth to flame to the fascinating men that were previously out of her league. Gretchen — her father’s daughter after all. And then there’s Paula, the drop out beauty with the soul of a saint who is rescued off the streets of New York by a black Haitian. They live happily ever after in poor but secure circumstances until Paula discovers she’s pregnant. Somehow, this breaks the spell and she bar hops, meeting a fun white guy but barely escaping being hit by a car that jumps the sidewalk, kills the guy but miraculously leaves her standing, intact. Desperate, she heads for a home that doesn’t exist. Along the way she picks up a boy hitchhiker who has been severely beaten, possibly tortured. In her attempt to rescue this boy that has come as accidentally across her path as the Haitian who is her lover and the Norwegian taken from her side, she discovers a secret that puts a smile on her face.

To put the secret in big terms, Paula discovers the mysterious core of female sexuality — the energizing source of regeneration that lies within a woman’s body that may, sometimes, have to do with having babies but always has to do with giving birth to herself. The sexual awakening for all three women stories is unmistakably complex, leaving the viewer of Personal Velocitysitting in wonder before the beauty of a woman.

0 likes Film Essay # , , , ,
Share: / / /

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *