Saturday, January 9, 2021

Review: "Pieces of A Woman" is devastating entertainment

 Pieces of A Woman Review

"Pieces of A Woman" features one of the most devastating first twenty minutes of any movie I can remember. It may be one of the very best first twenty minutes I've seen in modern movies. Remember the fun introduction of characters from 2006's "The Departed?" You meet all the players, the stakes are set and then as music by Dropkick Murphy's begins to sucker punch your brain, we see the title font reading "The Departed." It's an exhilarating first twenty minutes. Now, "Pieces of A Woman" has a first twenty minutes may rival those of "The Departed." Or maybe they aren't comparable, given the subject matter of each film. All I know is that after those first twenty minutes of "Pieces of A Woman," I was absolutely hooked.

We meet Martha, played by Vanessa Kirby. She's pregnant, looking as if she's going to be a new mother very, very soon. (Any woman who has ever given birth for a child and any dad's will probably know what I mean) She and her partner Sean (Shia LaBeouf), Martha's mother buys them a minivan, Sean gives Martha a framed picture of their baby's sonogram photos. They seem to care for each other very much. As we are seeing just the lives of these people as early evening turns into night, it's clear that Martha is going to have a home birth. They reach out to their midwife, who is out of town, so she sends someone she trusts, a midwife named Eva (Molly Parker). She gives birth, but things are not what they seem. Sean and Martha lose the baby and Martha gives birth.

The rest of the movie is the raw fallout of such an event. The decisions to several events come up that Martha must face. Martha wants to give the baby's body to science, her mother (played by Ellen Burstyn) wants to properly bury the child. There is a trial to see Eva intentionally had the baby killed, and whether Martha will go through with it for compensation. Martha and Sean are not married and their relationship is tested mightly afterward. And just the sadness that comes with losing a child that young. All of these things come to ahead by the end of the movie and the result is a devastating character piece and what we do when we are faced with impossible situations and what we really want from ourselves afterward.

The cast all around is just amazing. I think Vanessa Kirby could be nominated for an Oscar for her work here. While I liked her very much in the recent "Mission: Impossible" movies, she really upgrades as a performer and she delivers a profound performance. Shia LaBeouf, as I've said before, is beginning to build a great recent filmography and he has grown much as an actor. You can say this or that about his wild personal life, but its clear that when he's on set he has a laser focus. He is creating an amazing chorus line of memorable characters and I hope that streak continues. Ellen Burstyn is, as always, delectable. There's even some unexpectedly great supporting work here. Benny Safdie, co-director of "Uncut Gems" and "Good Time," does good work here. Comedian Iliza Shlesinger is great, yes Iliza Shlesinger does some really, really good work here. The women in this movie are so deglamorized, playing raw humans instead of typical Hollywood characters that I was taken aback by the power of their performance.

In just the last few years, movies have been doing a really good job of tapping into the power of grief in movies. "She Dies Tomorrow" was a movie from last year that ended up on my Top 20 of 2020 list, a movie that is very much about the way grief works like an infection that we can't shake. Grief is powerful and even personally this year I've learned just how powerful grief truly is. It's a horrible motherfucker and what I've been blown away by is how elegantly grief is portrayed here and how you can tell a depressing story and still get something worthwhile out of it. "Pieces of A Woman" destroyed me, but through the darkness was came something joyous.


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