Pieces of a Woman opens with a praiseworthy sequence—a phenomenal 30-minute uncut take featuring a home birth that ends in tragedy. For Boston-area couple Martha and Sean (Vanessa Kirby of The Crown and Shia LaBeouf of Honey Boy), their infant daughter’s death ripples through their family and circles beyond. Patterns of grief follow, namely the larger question of what it means to build an entire life for a singular purpose, like having children, only to have it pulled out from under you. Buying a minivan pre-disaster, Martha asks, “Is this us now?” only to be packing away a crib a month later.
It's not fun, but it is oddly pleasant to witness. Smooth steadicam gives the torment tranquility—it'd be tempting to go handheld for a project like this to express panic like the audience is a divine witness afforded a privileged peek at life's miracles and griefs.
As Pieces goes along, there's a foreboding that we're actually here for the actors to fatten up their reels. It's reminiscent of Jennifer Aniston's 2014 Cake, and not for plot alone (despite basically being the same movie)—a path for some accolades we'll forget about within a year, a way for drama teachers to play scenes on repeat in an introductory course.
Trying to live up to what the first half-hour promises proves fatal. You can be a victim of your own success, especially when a film begins in such a Alfonso Cuarón-inspired way. Director Kornél Mundruczó has the chops, as his earliest venture White Gods proves, but while his heart is in the right place, the writing knows what it wants to be but doesn't grasp what it wants to say. That's not to say there aren't moments of brilliant emotion, nor that the character psychology isn't well rounded. But like so much of the indie realism we watch year after year, it's mere observation.
Pieces could be profound for those who've faced a similar tragedy in their lives, but it's hard to say what's worth watching outside of the first half-hour. Pieces of Pieces are missing from the box. It wants to be more, but never shakes the sense you're at a matinee for an off-Broadway cast who badly want Tonys.
+ Performances are stellar; Kirby steals the show
– Loses steam as it goes along; having to watch gross Shia LaBeouf
Pieces of a Woman
Directed by Kornél Mundruczó
With Kirby and LaBeouf
Netflix, R, 126 min.