Written by: Kata Wéber
Starring: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Benny Safdie, Ellen Burstyn
Trauma felt by an individual becomes a burden no one can lift off their heart. No matter how much the support system wants to help in the way they seem fit, it all ultimately comes down to the individual who’s been traumatized to decide what ultimately works best for them. A consistent issue plaguing the protagonist of this harrowing and moving story of a woman just trying to cope in her own way.
Following a traumatic birth where her baby dies shortly after, Martha (Vanessa Kirby) tries to move on with her life. Not an easy proposition, especially with everyone around her including her partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf) and mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) begging her to fight in the court system against the midwife who delivered the baby.
The opening sequence of Pieces of a Woman may be enough to make someone turn off the movie because of its unrelenting intensity. An experience seemingly shot in one take showing the entire process of Matha giving birth to her child. Everything in this sequence gets captured from the initial excitement, all of the burping, moments of fright, and then despair. It all happens right in front of us and once it concludes is where the title drops. A harrowing experience and one to put us in the mindset of the grieving process of this woman. It’s hard to fathom the emotional and physical drain on the body of a woman carrying a pregnancy for nine months, going through the birthing process, and having it end the way it does in this opening sequence. How to move forward should solely be in the hands of Martha, but others see it differently.
Legal proceedings and family arguments dominate the rest of the film and while it has some strong moments, there are several where the melodrama gets a bit much, which ultimately brings down the film. To be fair, it’s difficult for any film to follow up the opening 30 minutes of this feature but stands out as the highlight with everything lacking. The outline of what occurs works far better than the overall execution with bits of pieces (get it?) of great stuff in-between.
The court case stems from malpractice from the midwife and if the misdelivery of the baby directly contributed to its quick death. A truly horrible circumstance for everyone involved but as audience members, we sat through the entire sequence in question. I found myself questioning exactly what she did to deserve this vitriol mostly spurred on by Martha’s mother. All of the conversations and emotional decisions eventually lead to the court scene. After convincing Martha this would be the best route moving forward and all the buildup, it culminates in the court scene and it works just fine for what it needs to be. Overall, it’s the best way to summarize the effectiveness of this film outside of the opening sequence.
Undoubtedly the greatest aspect of this film is Vanessa Kirby who just gives an astounding performance as Martha. Not only does she perform in the incredible opening scene but in a film where everyone else operates at an 11 she’s putting forth a reserved but emotionally devastating performance. She lets her face do the talking because after the incident she just does not want to continue on with whatever her family wants her to do. This look of defeat in her eyes permeates every scene, as people continually want things from her but all he wants to do is grieve in her own way. Not by the standards of others but just the way she needs to in order to heal from this horrific trauma. Every time Kirby looks like she’s going to zig, she zags and absolutely elevates a film struggling through a weak script.
With its pieces (get it?) being far better than the whole, Pieces of a Woman ultimately gets saved by a tremendous lead performance and pretty much coasts the rest of the way. It contains too much melodrama than it can actually handle but the performance by Vanessa Kirby cannot be denied as she takes a character trying to piece (get it?) herself together again despite the wishes of others. Some bright spots in-between and something certainly to recommend just for the artistry and intensity of the opening sequence.