Pieces of a Woman (2020)
“Pieces of a Woman” stars Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Jimmie Fails, and Ellen Burstyn. Released on December 30, 2020, the film is about a woman who goes on an emotional journey after losing her baby.
The film is directed by Kornél Mundruczó, who also directed films such as “Johanna”, “Delta”, “White God”, and “Jupiter’s Moon”. 2020 may be over, but there are still plenty more films from that year left for me to check out, especially the ones that may wind up being major award contenders. The first possible contender I’ll be looking at today comes from Netflix and Hungarian director Kornél Mundruczó who, according to his filmography, hasn’t helmed a film that’s in 100% English until now. What a way for him to step into different territory. I only knew this was coming out when I was doing research on the upcoming films I’m planning on reviewing. I saw the poster for it, noticed that it had Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf, and boom! I was immediately hooked. The film already made its debut in a small amount of theaters last month, and even though it didn’t become a huge critical darling, it did receive a suitable amount of good reviews, most notably due to its cast and its representation of the subject matter. Now, it has made its way to the streaming service for the rest of the public to enjoy…or cry their eyeballs out, whichever works. With that said, let’s see if this tearjerking drama is worth getting some recognition.
The story follows a Boston couple, Martha Weiss (Kirby) and Sean Carson (LaBeouf), whose lives have been changed horrifically. This is due to them losing their baby during a home birth performed by their midwife Eva Woodward (Parker), resulting in the midwife being charged with criminal negligence and being shunned by the public. Martha must now deal with her fractured relationships and learn to cope with her loss in order to face Eva in court. In case it wasn't obvious enough, this is another film that involves the process of grief, especially from the tragic loss of a loved one or a family member. In this case, it’s the sudden death of a newborn baby. Oh yeah, we’re definitely heading down that rabbit hole. This type of topic can be tricky to represent in film, not just because of how uncomfortable it is, but because of the sentimentality of its presentation. If handled incorrectly, it could wind up being an excessive melodrama that resembles a Lifetime movie. Fortunately, for me, that’s not the case here. This is a subtle and realistic depiction of a woman’s journey through grief and loss and how it affects her mentally as well as the people close to her. It’s far from a perfect depiction due to its pacing and the middle section not being on par with the riveting opening sequence and its well-executed ending despite how engaging it was. Nonetheless, it is still a well-made and thoughtful drama that has Kornél Mundruczó consistently blending its depressing and poignant nature with a sense of beauty in Benjamin Loeb’s cinematography. It can definitely be a slow burn for those who wanted to see some sort of excitement in the dramatic scenes. Not even its two-hour-plus runtime can make the situation better, but if you happen to stick around after the opening scene, you might be rewarded with stellar performances from the main cast and a satisfying screenplay by Kata Wéber. The main highlights of the cast would have to be Vanessa Kirby, who takes center stage in a realistic drama after impressing me with her action skills in “Mission: Impossible - Fallout” and “Hobbs & Shaw”, and Ellen Burstyn, who plays Martha’s mother Elizabeth. This was definitely Kirby’s film, and she owned it 100 percent. Similar to the film’s tone, Kirby’s performance was subtle, yet deeply affecting with how well-balanced her acting range was. Based on what I’ve seen, this is something that should help make her presence known during this year's awards season. As for Burstyn herself, she was absolutely stunning, especially during her scenes with Kirby. Shia LaBeouf also managed to impress me once again with his respectable performance as Sean. However, if you’re expecting him to earn a few nominations for his role, I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen as he has been removed from Netflix’s “For Your Consideration” page due to him being accused of alleged abuse by FKA Twigs. This is such a shame because he’s been doing so well with his recent roles, and I would hate to see him go back to square one if the allegations turn out to be true. Going back to the opening sequence, I would say that this was my favorite part of the film mostly because of Mundruczó’s direction and the cinematography. Its long single takes helped keep track of the sequence in great detail, and the commitment of the film’s cast and Mundruczó himself helped make the process of home birth both real and absorbing. It might not suit well for everyone, but for those who don’t mind this type of stuff, it was an impressive way to start off a film like this.
Overall, “Pieces of a Woman” is a grounded and deeply moving portrait of grief that offers plenty of rewards for viewers who are patient. The film’s slow pacing and the middle section prevented it from being a tour de force, but everything else managed to keep it from sinking even further into depression. The performances were stunning, Mundruczó’s direction and Wéber’s script were both top-notch, and the cinematography was simply astonishing. This is another appealing, yet somber, drama that’s powered by the actors themselves as well as its realistic representation. It can be challenging for me to recommend this one to everyone, most notably people who went through that process themselves. However, if you think you can handle this subject matter, then by all means, go check it out.
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