The 400-Word Review: Pieces of a Woman
By Sean Collier
January 9, 2021
It’s very rare that a single performance carries a film quite this much.
A brave, remarkable statement of a turn by Vanessa Kirby is absolutely everything there is to “Pieces of a Woman,” and I mean that twice over. First, in that Kirby is so tremendously powerful that she rises far above the film around her; second, in that the film around her is otherwise not very good at all.
A middling-at-best film with this performance in it is still worth watching, but don’t expect a coherent experience — just expect Kirby.
She plays Martha Carson, a Boston woman from an upper-crust background presently slumming it with her contractor boyfriend (Shia LaBeouf). She’s pregnant, and the incoming baby is deepening the divisions between Martha’s well-to-do mother (Ellen Burstyn) and the uncouth father of the child.
When their home birth doesn’t go as planned, Martha is inundated with the desires of those around her — chiefly, but not exclusively, Mom and the boyfriend — when she would clearly rather deal with things by shutting down and coping quietly. Characters and problems bounce off of her like pinballs as everyone seeks impossible resolution.
“Pieces of a Woman” is directed by Kornél Mundruczó, who can’t stop putting obstacles in the path of his actors. The film is packed with unearned pretension; a middling filmmaker with delusions of auteur status, Mundruczó can’t help but play with irritating flourishes (waiting 30 minutes to show the film’s title card was particularly irksome). To say the least, “Pieces of a Woman” could’ve used a more stark approach, a deficiency repeatedly underlined by an invasive, leaden score.
The film also suffers from a dreadful performance by LaBeouf — there are roles for which he’s suited, but this is not one of them — though a charming appearance by Burstyn helps. Ultimately, though, the overall mission of “Pieces of a Woman” is a failure.
And then Kirby saves it.
There are big, declarative, actorly moments in her work, and they’re great. I’m infinitely more impressed, however, with her restraint. She refuses to let the circumstances of the role lure her into melodrama; through it all, she holds the reins on Martha with steadfast determination. It would be better if she had a movie worthy of this turn, but in the end, that hardly matters — her performance is so good that not even a mediocre film can derail it.
My Rating: 6/10