Allow me a moment to become absolutely insufferable and talk about genre theory. Genres evolve in four phases. They go primitive, classical, revisonist, and parody. A primitive Melodrama might be something like “Four Daughters” where we can see all the trappings of a genre but all of the pieces aren’t there yet. “Pieces of a Woman” is firmly a revisionist Melodrama, well for at the least 3/4ths of the movie. That right there is the movie’s biggest problem.
“Pieces of a Woman” opens with a fairly impressive twenty-five minute opening scene that’s supposed to all be one take. We’re all pretty tired of this trend but I actually think this one is pretty good. My complaints start right here though. We’re in this moment far too long and you don’t realize that until later in the movie because we’re never in any scene nearly this long and that’s a huge problem. There are scenes that deserve a similar length and we’re never given it. I’ll acquiesce this point to some degree as that opening is of course what the rest of the movie is about.
Most of the movie deals with Vanessa Kirby dealing with the fallout of losing a child at birth during a home birth. It goes about it in a very modern way in the sense that sometimes really terrible things happen to good people and there are no real reasons why. I would be totally fine watch Kirby and her husband in the movie, played by Shia LaBeouf, go through these things for two hours like this. Unfortunately there’s a very strange shift in mood and theme right when I thought things were actually about to get good!
When Martha and Sean, Kirby and Labeouf’s characters respectively, arrive to a family dinner I expected there to be “The Big Moment.” There is one don’t get me wrong, but this “Big Moment” was a moment in the worst way possible. Martha’s mom backs her into a corner and insists on knowing why she won’t sue the Midwife that is “responsible” for it. The fight between mother and daughter ends when Martha’s mother gives this big monoluge about how her mother had to bear the burden of a child and live in a ghetto during the holocaust. It’s supposed to be the moment that later gives Martha her inner strength, but it all comes off as wrong. I didn’t bring up Genre Theory by accident here folks. The whole time this movie has been revisionist Melodrama and all of a sudden, with his monolouge, it turns into a classical or even primitive Melodrama. Even the way the monolouge is filmed is all wrong. We’re weirdly high above her and never quite getting a good eye line. The set-up is all funky and that certainly doesn’t help the delivery of the already shaky screenplay.
The change in tone with regards to revisionist to classical/primitive doesn’t just stop there. The rest of the movie suddenly turns into a courtroom drama in which Martha gives an empassioned speech about how the midwife wasn’t at fault and that these random horrible things just happen. This would’ve been fine if we had kept with the tone of a revisionist film, but everything is different now.
There is a lot more I could get into in terms of things I didn’t like in this movie, but they pretty much stem from this problem with tone. Don’t get me wrong I think Kirby is quite good in this movie and definitely does something. I just don’t think that something was enough for me.