EARLY IN "Personal Velocity: Three Portraits," Delia, a wife and mother, gets a violent punch in the face.
It's a sudden, brutal assault that shocks her -- and us -- into a flurry of feelings: weak resignation, a sudden flush of adrenaline and then, fury, maybe a little disgust. The blow doesn't come from a mugger, a robber, a delinquent. It comes from her husband. With the kids around the table.
One thing we don't do is reflect on the man who delivered the blow. After all, what more does anyone need to discover or consider about him? Instead, we think of Delia (Kyra Sedgwick) and why her immediate reaction is to apologize, make him feel better for bloodying her mouth.
Sure, this nasty situation has played out a million times before, in real life, in TV's "Cops" show, in the movies. But Rebecca Miller's film, an 86-minute digital movie (from the same people who produced "Tape" and "Tadpole"), has a special, original urgency.
The story is about three women (played by Sedgwick, Parker Posey and Fairuza Balk) who have suffered, directly or indirectly, from family (and male) relationships: their fathers, husbands, boyfriends.
One woman's torment or predicament follows another with only the loosest of plot connections: all three women listen to a news report about a strange hit-and-run accident.
After Delia's chapter -- in which she packs up three children and leaves a man she loves despite the horror -- "Personal Velocity" turns its pages to Greta (Posey), a lowly cookbook editor who gets the professional opportunity of her life.
A well-known novelist, Thavi Matola (Joel de la Fuente), takes such an immediate shine to her, he appoints her the editor of his next novel. Greta's life takes an unexpected, upward whirl. Now she's in the vaunted world she always dreamed of. Greta, engaged to someone she's rapidly tiring of, has a problem with fidelity, it turns out. Which makes her vulnerable to an author with even less control over his impulses.
In the third piece, almost a coda, Paula (Balk), pregnant and disconsolate, finds herself more than casually linked with the accident. This final section, which brings the movie full circle, is the least satisfying of the three. But by then, you've already had (or not had) all the emotional impact you need.
The movie's much more than a castor-oil feminist message about self-realization, bad old Dad and all those awful men. The performances take care of that. Sedgwick, who goes from chirpily happy to spiritually destroyed in one punch, brings something fresh (or something freshly rotten) to the familiar. And Posey, one of our most underrated actresses, turns a potentially cliched role into something memorable and rich with passing chuckles.
Writer-director Miller, the daughter of Arthur Miller, has essentially made a digital version of a short story. "Personal Velocity" is voice-over narrative with a movie attached. But even though narrator John Ventimiglia leaves no stone unturned in terms of telling us almost everything we need to know (how the characters feel, what happened in the past, etc.), there's enough passion here to make this feel like, well, a movie.
PERSONAL VELOCITY: THREE PORTRAITS (R, 86 minutes) -- Contains disturbing violence, sexual situations and obscenity. At Cineplex Odeon Dupont Circle, Landmark Bethesda Row and Cinema Arts Theatre.