“Pieces of a Woman” is a compelling, although at times uneven, drama about loss and grief.
It’s full of raw emotion with an awards-worthy performance from Vanessa Kirby, who keeps the audience interested even as the script starts to veer into melodramatic territory.
Kirby stars as Martha, who as the film begins is in the final stage of pregnancy and planning her future and her child’s future with her husband, Sean (Shia LaBeouf). The couple’s dreams of a family are shattered when Martha’s home birth ends in tragedy.
While everyone around Martha tries to help her pick up the pieces, Martha becomes more and more isolated – unable and unwilling to share the grief of the tragedy. As the days go by, her relationships with Sean and her domineering mother (Ellen Burstyn) start to fracture. When she is convinced to sue the midwife (Molly Parker) for negligence, the rift grows wider and Martha’s loss is magnified even more.
Kirby does an outstanding job conveying this woman’s grief and struggles. She really captures the struggles of Martha and how she is unable to grasp the situation – unspeakable isolated grief.
And while the film is more about the aftermath, the high point of “Woman” comes in the opening act with director Kornél Mundruczó staging the home birth in an extended 30-minute sequence that captures the intensity and realness of the event. It’s probably the most intense and impressive sequences of any film in recent memory, with the camera taking the audience right in the moment in a way that feels authentic.
Unfortunately, “Woman” can’t sustain that high bar set by that terrific sequence. The film starts to fade a bit in the second half, with Ansuman Bhagat and Kata Wéber’s screenplay using familiar tropes to heighten the dramatic tension (Her struggles with her mother work a little more than her struggles to keep her marriage together). It’s a credit to Kirby, and the rest of the cast, that they are able to lift up the material despite the missteps and create a strong drama about family and loss.
“Woman” winds up being a little messy, but ultimately that messiness isn’t enough to overshadow a brilliant opening act – and Kirby’s emotionally devastating performance.