REVIEW: ‘Pieces of a Woman’ is a profound portrayal of grief

Sometimes, a person’s life can fall to pieces. That’s certainly the case here, so the title is appropriate.

Vanessa Kirby plays Martha in “Pieces of a Woman,” a new movie now streaming on Netflix. The movie opens with Martha going into labor, with her partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf) at her side. Instead of going to a hospital, the two have opted to hire a midwife and deliver the baby at home.

Sadly, shortly after the birth, there are complications and their baby dies. The film then explores how the two, especially Martha, go through the grieving process and deal with the aftermath, which ranges from legal action against the midwife to uncomfortable conversations with family members about the situation.

Martha going through labor and the birthing process is shown here in a nearly-20 minute sequence, all captured in one shot. It’s a harrowing experience and sets the heavy tone for the rest of the film. “Pieces of a Woman” is a movie all about grief, and it’s a very raw look at the subject.

Martha goes on an emotional, difficult and very lonely journey, which is captivating for an audience. Depression, anger and helplessness are at play here for Martha, and because it’s portrayed so convincingly, it hooks a viewer in and doesn’t let go.

Story-wise, “Pieces of a Woman” isn’t the most traditionally structured, as the feature jumps from one month to the next to ‘check in’ on the characters. To an extent, this works, as the movie plays out more like a character study, rather than a more typical story with a standard build up and a payoff.

Courtesy Netflix.

It’s really a movie about a person dealing with an issue such as this loss, and going through the motions after, such as trying to return to work and do daily activities. Having the movie advance month to month helps show different ways of coping, too.

There are times when the movie gets too scattered, though, as it branches out into unnecessary subplots. A prime example of this is a development that occurs with Sean a little after midway through the movie that comes across as an attempt for excessive drama in a movie that already has plenty.

The film’s third act and ending could have been tighter as well. Not to the point where things needed to be wrapped up in a nice bow, but the conclusion could have certainly been cleaner.

The movie remains a strong work, though, thanks to strong direction from Kornel Mundruczo and some fine acting. Kirby is remarkably good in the lead role. The pain and grief her character is experiencing is brought to life on screen so very thoroughly, that it will hit viewers hard.

The same can be said for LaBeouf, who gives a really tragic performance. While his character is taken in a questionable direction in the second half of the movie, LaBeouf remains a strong cast member, believably portraying the man’s frustrations.

Mundruczo has made a strong Netflix entry with a powerful concept with very well placed symbolism. Some aspects could have been tighter, but this was a good effort. 4 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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