DIRECTED BY: Kornél Mundruczó
STARRING: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Jimmie Fails, Ellen Burstyn and Domenic Di Rosa
Martha and Sean are a Boston couple on the verge of parenthood whose lives change irrevocably when a home birth ends in unimaginable tragedy. Thus begins a yearlong odyssey for Martha, who must navigate her grief while working through fractious relationships with Sean and her domineering mother, along with the publicly vilified midwife, whom she must face in court.
Pieces Of A Woman is the latest feature from director Kornél Mundruczó, with the screenplay written by Kata Wéber. The film focuses on Boston couple Martha Weiss and Sean Carson, who are preparing for parenthood and that moment arrives when Martha goes into labour with her water breaking in the kitchen. As some pregnancies go, the parents will have to prepare for the unexpected and with the couple set for a home birth, when they contact their midwife she can’t come as she’s currently in the middle of another birth, which leads to her replacement, Eve Woodward, arriving at their home. With Eve overseeing the birth, the process seems to go according to plan, until something goes terribly wrong, leading to paramedics having to be called and rushed in.
With a brief opening of Martha and Sean leaving their jobs, Martha leaving her office and Sean leaving his construction build of a bridge and the two meet back at home, the moment Martha’s water breaks, we’re treated to an almost thirty-minute sequence in which we witness the process of their child’s birth, the fear that comes with it as we witness through Eve’s flustered face that something is going wrong here and it’s one of the most authentically and emotionally effective first acts I’ve seen in a while. The rest of the film deals in the aftermath and the ways that the couple grieve, with Martha being cold and being emotionally shut off from her partner and family as they try to get her to open up about the loss of their child, as well as how Sean is on the verge of relapsing, and her mother Elizabeth is pushing for her to get justice against the midwife and file a civil suit against her for negligence. Though Mundruczó’s direction and Benjamin Loeb’s cinematography, the biggest strength comes down to the performances from the ensemble. Vanessa Kirby gives her best performance to date as Martha, I absolutely bought into her performance in the thirty-minute sequence alone (which she had to do some interesting research on and read on IMDb trivia), but witnessing her character be impassive most of the time until someone says something to her or to someone else and she suddenly becomes confrontational in tone, but mostly it’s how dismissive she is of her mothers advice over the course of the film that leads to a emotional scene between the two around a dinner table that may earn her and Ellen Burstyn awards consideration, as she is great in her role as Martha’s mother Elizabeth. Shia LaBeouf also gave a good performance here as Martha’s partner Sean, and while he portrays a certain about of vulnerability in his grief I didn’t expect from him, there is some scenes involving him and Vanessa Kirby however that some may find uncomfortable due to recent news publicised about him. Shia LaBeouf was originally put in the first batch of FYC materials for the film, but has since then been removed from updated materials once it was publicly revealed that his former girlfriend, FKA Twigs (Tahliah Debrett Barnett), filed a lawsuit against him for citing sexual battery, assault and emotional distress.
While the direction is solid and the ensemble give great performances, unfortunately the film doesn’t even come close capturing what the we got in the first thirty minutes of the film. What proceeds is a hybrid of a family drama/legal drama and none are really giving the meat to make me feel the emotional journey that it’s trying to take me on. While we get glimpses of how Weiss family is being pulled apart, with an underused Iliza Shlesinger playing the role of Anita Weiss, who’s caught in the constant battle between Martha and Elizabeth, and then there’s their cousin Suzanne, played by Sarah Snook, whose brought in to represent Martha in court against the midwife as she happens to be a lawyer, and there’s some other melodramatic elements that are brought forward in the family that don’t feel organically placed at all. As for the legal court drama, it is mainly played in the background on television screens and feels very sensationalised and leads to a conclusion that will make sense, but might leave some viewers unsatisfied.
With a powerful and effective opening thirty minutes, Pieces Of A Woman unfortunately doesn’t reach those heights again the rest of the films runtime. However the performances from Vanessa Kirby and Ellen Burstyn definitely place them as awards contenders.