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Movie Review: “Pieces of a Woman”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Netflix Release: 1/7/2021

Netflix Release: 1/7/2021

Synopsis

Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are expecting a baby any day now. The two are excited to bring their child into the world. Sean does not make much money, but he makes enough to provide for his incoming family. His mother-in-law Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn), however, does not think Sean is good enough for her daughter. She pays for big expenses, and belittles Sean whenever she has the opportunity to do so. Martha is well aware of the tension between Sean and her mother, but she is grateful for the support that the two of them give her.

Despite Elizabeth’s best wishes, Martha and Sean decide to have their baby at home using a mid-wife. When Martha goes into labor, the mid-wife they had chosen is not available, so another mid-wife (Molly Parker) takes her place. Unfortunately, the day that was supposed to be filled with joy ends up taking a tragic turn. As a result of complications, the baby does not survive, and it shatters Martha and Sean to their core. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Sean and Martha try to find a way to continue on, but the loss of their child weighs heavily on their lives.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

The Premise (+6pts)

The Story (-8pts)

Shia LaBeouf & Ellen Burstyn (+5pts)

Dragged Out (-10pts)

Vanessa Kirby (+8pts)

The End (-4pts)

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Pro: The Premise (+6pts)

It does not take a parent to understand the tragedy that was this movie's premise. Martha and Sean were excited, young parents-to-be, but their world was ripped out from under them in a tragic turn of events. The premise hooked me. It made me sympathize with the main characters, even before the tragedy actually happened, because I knew what this movie was about, so I knew what was coming.

The premise got me invested in these characters. I knew what happened to them, and I wanted to see how they would get through it, or if they even would. They would obviously never forget what happened, nor would they be quite the same as they were before, but the premise was one that naturally made me want to see the main characters find some amount of peace and happiness in the aftermath of what happened. This movie was the definition of a tragic story, and it was very easy to sympathize with these characters. I think the filmmakers could have done a much better job of writing a story around this premise—I will get into that later—but the premise itself was one that instantly hooked me, and had me wanting to see how these characters would deal with their tragic loss.

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Con: The Story (-8pts)

I saw the awards plastered all over both the poster and the trailer for this movie, and I saw a ton of really positive reviews for the movie as well. Then I watched the movie, and I just sat there, wondering what movie everyone else watched. Beyond the tragedy that happened in the trailer, there was no story here. The movie could have been about Martha and Sean's relationship. If that were the case, the filmmakers should have shown their life before the pregnancy, and leading up to the birth. Then they should have showed what the tragedy did to their relationship, and had the climax of the movie be about whether or not they worked things out. That was not what we got.

The movie also could have been about the trial of the mid-wife, forming a case against her, and the climax could have been determining whether or not she was guilty, but that was not what we got either. What we got, was a movie about nothing. Outside the tragic birth, everything noteworthy and interesting about the characters' stories happened off screen, and the filmmakers instead gave us scenes like Martha staring at appleseeds, and Sean and Martha's family talking about trivial things while Martha just sort of stood there, zoning out. It was as if the filmmakers had a story, but they chose to imply it all instead of actually showing any of it.

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Pro: Shia LaBeouf & Ellen Burstyn (+5pts)

Shia LaBeouf was not given a whole lot to work with here. His character's story was typical in the sense that he was a guy whose in-laws did not approve of him, and he was a guy who acted out in the most stereotypical way when things were not going so well between Martha and himself. Shia LaBeouf did fine with what little the writers gave him, but it was the tragic premise that gave Shia LaBeouf something to really sink his teeth into. His character was in great pain, as he tragically lost a child, and he was desperate for a connection with Martha to get him through it. Shia LaBeouf crushed this dramatic performance, I only wish the writers gave him more to do, because he could have done so much more with the role if they had.

Then there was Ellen Burstyn, who was given even less to work with than Shia LaBeouf. Her character loved her daughter, and she was emotionally impacted by the tragic birth in her own right. The movie was far more interesting whenever this character was on screen because of the dynamic she had with both Sean and Martha. Then, about two thirds of the way into the movie, she had a dramatic, emotional monologue that was truly captivating and left a lasting impression on the rest of the movie. The writers did not give much character development for either Shia LaBeouf or Ellen Burstyn to work with, but I thought both did a great job with what they had, and they both helped make the movie tolerable.

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Con: Dragged Out (-10pts)

This was easily the movie's biggest problem, in my opinion. I got the impression that the filmmakers had a story that ended up clocking in at about 40 minutes. Then, rather than add more story, they decided to stretch what they had by another 1 hour and 20 minutes. The movie opened, more or less, with Martha going into labor. Then the mid-wife showed up, and there was about 15 minutes of nothing, then about 5 minutes for the actual delivery. It just felt like the filmmakers were trying to pad the runtime, because they did not have much of a story to tell.

While the labor felt dragged out, it at least felt intense, and emotionally charged. The next hour of the movie was a very different story. There were scenes that were stretched razor thin, and there were other scenes that could have been taken out all together. The movie simply slowed way down after the tragic birth. Given the premise, this movie could have been incredibly heavy and impactful, but it was as if the filmmakers knew they had a strong premise, and decided they did not need any real story to go along with it. If they had cut about 40 minutes off of the runtime, the movie could have actually been pretty good. It could have been a powerful 1 hour and 25 minute movie, but stretching it as thin as they did made it a snore-fest that shined a light on just how little story they actually had.

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Pro: Vanessa Kirby (+8pts)

Martha was very obviously the main character of this story. She unfortunately did not have much of a story beyond: mother tragically loses baby, and becomes justifiably depressed and messed up as a result of that. Much like all of the other characters, the filmmakers did not really give Martha much of a story. There was nothing for her to work toward, and it did not seem like they were building the story around her finding any amount of peace. The movie basically was just seeing the world ripped out from under this woman, and watching her being upset about it.

Nonetheless, Vanessa Kirby did a fantastic job with the role. She was what made this movie watchable, despite the issues I had with the story, or lack thereof. I cannot comprehend, what Martha or anyone in Martha's shoes would be feeling, but Vanessa Kirby did great with it. She was broken, she felt hollow, and everything felt pointless to her, and Vanessa Kirby got all of that across to the audience without anyone having to say it out loud on screen. This woman's world was shattered, and I thought Vanessa Kirby made the character captivating, despite how boring and dragged out the movie around her felt.

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Con: The End (-4pts)

If this was how the filmmakers wanted to end the movie then they should have properly built to it. They should have either given more focus to the trial of the mid-wife, or they should have given more focus to Martha's opinion of the trial. It was like Martha had a change of heart, but the filmmakers never showed us what her initial opinion was on the matter, so I did not really care. It just felt like it came out of left field, and it felt like the filmmakers realized they needed to end the movie, so they just threw this in there. It was also weird because the speech Martha made was not at all what the trial was even about in the first place, as I did not think anyone was there to question the mid-wife's intentions. It was a random, illogical ending to a relatively boring, uneventful movie.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: C- (72pts)

I did not like this movie, but I am aware of the fact that many people did. I have no idea what movie they were watching though, because for me, this was a movie with a strong premise, strong performances, but there was almost no story. This movie could have been a lean, impactful, 1 hour and 25 minute movie, but the filmmakers decided they wanted it to be just over 2 hours. Their solution was to drag everything out to a snail's pace, and I kept debating whether or not I should just turn it off and watch something else.

The premise was a tragic one, and it will have you feeling for the couple. Unfortunately, Sean had almost no story, and the story he did have has been done about a thousand times before. Martha also had almost no story, beyond being justifiably shattered. The filmmakers could have made the story about the couple trying to find some level of peace after their tragedy, or they could have made it about the mid-wife's trial. The movie touched on both of those things, but the filmmakers decided to focus on nothing instead. The best things about this movie were the performances. You will feel for the characters in this situation, but unfortunately, so little happened after the tragedy, and stretching it all out as thin as the filmmakers did made the movie fall very, very far below its potential.

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