Director; Kornel Mundruczo. Starring; Vanessa Kirby, Shia Lebouf, Ellen Burstyn. Rated R. Color. 126 minutes.
I find myself torn with this picture. On the one hand the cast lead by Vanessa Kirby in a career defining role are all tremendous. The film is also well thought out with multiple scenes that have layers to asses. But in the end, “Pieces of a Woman” feels very much like a work of art that is so focused on showing you how amazing it is without simply letting its actions speak for themselves. To quantify this viewing experience, “Pieces” is like a germaphobe that uses an extra five Clorox Wipes to tidy up an already perfectly clean counter top.
The story here is again layered, but also very simple. Vanessa Kirby plays Martha, an established higher up working at some type of unidentified high rise business in Boston. She is pregnant with what will be her first child with construction worker and partner Sean (Shia LeBouf). The couple has decided to go with an all natural in-home birth. I always say don’t be afraid of the medicine game, but to each their own. When Martha goes into labor the regularly scheduled midwife is busy delivering another child so a stranger named Eva (Molly Parker) arrives at their home. Eva is well trained yet forced to scramble in a strange circumstance in order to ensure the newborn’s safety. Despite everyone’s best efforts, including EMT medical professionals arriving, the child is dead within minutes of seeing the world.
From there the gamut of negative emotions spew out of the pours of all involved. Martha’s family, in particular her mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn), demand retribution and justice against the midwife that “Killed” what would have been a grandchild. The uneducated recovering alcoholic boyfriend/husband Sean begins to spiral towards dark places as he cannot handle Martha’s cold demeanor after the loss. “Pieces of a Woman” builds towards attempting to repair a broken situation in the courts publicly while also showcasing the bricks falling down behind doors.
As I said, there are some very commendable and even phenomenal aspects to this film. Vanessa Kirby is outstanding. She gives a ‘mic drop’ style performance. Shia Lebouf (Whom I hate in real life but always call ’em like I see ’em) brings a humble gravity to a character that is easy to discard but also just as flawed as anybody else. The actual birth scene is certainly a sight to see as it is all done in “One-Take”. Not exactly, but on screen it sure looks extraordinary and will have you captivated.
That is also a big flaw for “Pieces of a Woman”. That 23 minute long birthing scene is tremendous and makes sense in terms of depicting the chaos that is giving birth. You nailed it director Kornel Mundruczo there. But why do you keep using the same filmmaking tool each time the audience is supposed to pay attention? Every major argument or character transition, one take. Does not matter if its a lunch service, trading in a car, or the camera focused on an actors back. Give me another one take baby is the thought process. Similar to how a way more deplorable film called “300” utilized slow-mo like it was candy, the concept of a one-take becomes watered down if you use it for literally every important moment.
Quantifying “Pieces of a Woman” is easy. The movie tries too hard. I would not be surprised if you love it either. When assessing the totality of what I saw I find it hard not to react with a very simple phrase; ‘MEH’.