Pieces of a Woman
Kirby & Burstyn deserve their praise
I don't enjoy writing negative reviews. When I'm praising a film, I have all these feelings inside me and I'm on a roll just typing away on the computer. When I feel negativity towards a film, I get writer's block. In retrospect, Pieces Of A Woman is in no way a bad film. On the contrary, it has a lot that it can be proud of but it also has more flaws than strengths and those flaws are just too powerful for some audiences and critics to overcome. Nevertheless, the performances of Vanessa Kirby (An actor you may know from The Crown & The Dresser) and Ellen Burstyn are simply too sensational to not give them praise so that's what I'm doing here in this review.
In modern-day Boston, (The film’s first flaw, being filmed somewhere that doesn't look like Boston at all and I would know. I just came back from Boston and the film was shot in December of 2019 and wrapped relatively quickly so I'm not being unreasonable here) Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are an unmarried couple on the verge of having their first child. Martha wanted to be at home for the birth and the actual home birth scene is 22 minutes long in one shot. This is one of the areas where the filmmakers can be proud of. The intensity of the scene is absolutely indescribable. I suppose it's like an out of body experience. In reality, you see a woman giving birth to her child but metaphorically, you see a transformation taking place: The transformation from a time of long-awaited anticipation to a year of loss, loneliness, and uncertainty.
Sadly, the baby didn't make it and the flustered midwife (Molly Parker) is now facing charges of criminal negligence. How you would treat a friend who just bought a used car that stopped working is how Martha feels treated by Sean and her entire family. She particularly clashes with her mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn). Elizabeth isn't a mean spirited mother but she's beyond overbearing. She didn't approve of Martha and Sean’s relationship in the first place. He's a blue-collar working-class construction worker and he and Martha planned to have this baby without getting married.
Elizabeth comes from an entirely different generation (She’s a holocaust survivor which came up in a scene where it was completely irrelevant and many critics deemed ingenuine but to the 88-year-old Burstyn’s credit, she did her best to make the scene work) and she’s used to things being done a certain way. Martha's clashes with her are what it's like to visit family members you don't want to see. Everything is always a problem that’s bound to start with Why? Why not? How come? There shouldn't be any questions on Elizabeth's end, it should just be “honey, what can I do. I'll give you your space but if you need anything, I am so here for you”.
None of this is said. It's all about how Martha is always wrong for not wanting to bury the baby and have its body used for science and biggest of all, not wanting to go to the trial. Sean's not giving her any support either. There's nothing more selfish than expecting people to grieve a certain way. Emotionally, it's such a violation, and Pieces Of A Woman is a film that tries its best to be about loss but instead is about what it is to be confronted by a society that dictates how you should grieve.
Scenes with Sean are particularly complicated because of what is happening in Shia LaBeouf’s personal life. His ex, pop star FKA Twigs is alleging sexual battery, verbal abuse, and emotional distress. He's also been fired from Olivia Wilde’s new film for poor behavior on set with her and other actors. I just googled as I'm writing this and see that some other women have come forward with their own claims including Sia. Fortunately for audiences, reasons to see Pieces Of A Woman fall heavily on Vanessa Kirby and Ellen Burstyn’s superb performances so the focus will most likely be on that.
The midwife's trial is meant to be an important part of the film but it comes towards the end and feels extremely rushed, not to mention Sean's affair with the prosecutor was just a lazy side plot the film just didn't need. That feeling of being surrounded by people that you feel can't understand you in times of crisis but should is what Pieces Of A Woman can be most proud of because all of that is carried by Kirby through her battle to make the film work.
Ultimately, Pieces Of A Woman fails and is downsized to something that's not good or bad, just ok. I'm recommending it anyway because I'm certain that Kirby and Burstyn will both be nominated for their work and they deserve the praise. The next time you see Vanessa Kirby in something, you'll feel better having watched Pieces Of A Woman, knowing what she's capable of. Sometimes, performance is what holds a movie together and Pieces Of A Woman at least gives you two to hold onto.
Picture credit: https://bit.ly/38R5p73