Directed by Kornél Mundruczó and written by Kata Wéber, when a young mother’s home birth ends in unfathomable tragedy, she begins a year-long odyssey of mourning that fractures relationships with loved ones in this deeply personal story of a woman learning to live alongside her loss. Starring: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Sarah Snook and Molly Parker.
The profound loss of losing a child is something that undoubtedly deserves to be captured on screen to enable people to talk about such an important issue and to not feel as though it has to be kept within their own walls, however this likely isn’t the film to spark that important conversation. The issues that this film has begin quite rapidly with its first few scenes, despite being very clear in both its trailer and even just its synopsis that this film is about loss, it inexplicably spends no less than 30-minutes setting it up, a quarter of its runtime. It’s a poor use of time, that would have been better served elsewhere, to allow a larger exploration of the emotions and trauma at work with these characters. The ratio of how it spends time on different portions of the story is a problem it has consistently throughout, it undermines its message and meaning by not concentrating on the things that matter, beginning so slow and then rushing through the rest.
The writing in general however isn’t as problematic, it does bring through the emotion and tries to deal with the loss in a way that reflects everyday life, and how the world keeps turning and you have to find your place in it again. Although it’s a style that won’t work for everyone, it does feel slightly light given the dark issue at play and could have dived more deeply into mental health and how relationships change after loss but it deals with them in a fairly simple manner. It tends to also skim over the father’s side of the experience, he’s given the basic path to follow, rather than attempting to follow how it impacts both parents. It swiftly moves through several months in its latter half and when it finally does reach its ending, it moves from a heavy-handed metaphor into an attempt to wrap things up in a neat bow. The result is the opposite, leaving you to question, did it actually achieve what it set out to do? There are a number of loose threads and chapters of this story that have been missed.
Despite those flaws, the performances are really the element that works most strongly here, Kirby steps into her first lead feature role and doesn’t disappoint. There is an argument to be made that it could have hit a more deeply emotional note but that’s fighting against the path they set for her character. She has to go from the raw energy of the birth to the cold, closed-off self-protection then back to a much more emotional place, it’s a challenging role and she does well, the film wouldn’t work at all without a strong performance. Although, it’s possibly Ellen Burstyn as her mother, Elizabeth who makes the biggest impact with her role. It’s an incredible performance which is unsurprising from the Academy Award winner and six-time nominee, she does the best job of connecting with the audience and really hitting home the emotion. It’s unfortunate that after everything that has surfaced from LaBeouf’s private life, it makes it extremely uncomfortable to watch him in this role. He undeniably commits to it with his usual vivacity but instead of that hitting harder, it’s simply hard to watch because of how difficult it is to ignore the reality.
Pieces of a Woman chose such a worthy, important topic to centre its film around but sadly can’t do it justice. The basic ingredients are there but the way that they’re used feels like the least effective option and it’s disappointing to see it put together poorly. Kirby and Burstyn give great performances that keep it holding on but they can’t make it work. Ultimately it feels as though the film couldn’t live up to its potential.