This is a film that will be on my mind for a while. It’s hard to enjoy a movie that’s incredibly depressing, but PIECES OF A WOMAN (2020) is one that I got behind. All I feel like doing is raving about how good this movie truly is, but I need to stress that I probably won’t recommend it to most average viewers. Having just premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, PIECES OF A WOMAN took me on a journey that I wasn’t prepared for in the slightest. Here are my overall thoughts on this very challenging film.
The premise of this film alone kind of ruins the experience to dive into it in detail, so I’ll simply say that this film is about Martha (Vanessa Kirby), a woman who has to cope with a devastating loss. This loss drives a huge steak in the love between her and Sean (Shia LaBeouf), so much so that their relationship may not work out. PIECES OF A WOMAN begins with an absolutely gut-wrenching 30 minutes that sets the rest of the film in motion. The opening of the film made me smile and it felt sweet, but the quick descent into heartbreak just left my jaw on the floor. In retrospect, this movie isn’t for anyone who is looking to genuinely enjoy a film, but rather an experience that utilizes filmmaking and performances in the best ways possible.
I’ve been a Shia LaBeouf fan for as long as I can remember, so his fantastic and raw performance here didn’t surprise me in the least. He’s been great in everything he’s done over the last few years and I can’t wait to see more indie turns from him. Now, Vanessa Kirby on the other hand… I’ve seen her in big films like MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT (2018) and FAST AND THE FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS AND SHAW (2019), but I’ve never seen her sink her teeth into a role like this. Maybe there’s a smaller film that I need to seek out that she’s done in the past, but this may be the best performance she’ll ever give. From her first moments on-screen to where she ends up by the end, her range here was outstanding. I felt the emotion that she was conveying and I broke down in a certain courtroom scene.
Now, where I feel the one imperfect aspect of this film lies, is in the fact that the first 30 minutes are so incredibly moving, that the rest of the movie does seem to move at a much, much slower pace. Once the big moment occurs, PIECES OF A WOMAN almost teeters on being a little too melodramatic and slow. With that said, the camerawork by Benjamin Loeb is a character in itself. Incredibly long takes bring you on a journey themselves and it took the overall story to another level for me. Having done the cinematography for the film MANDY (2018), I guess that shouldn’t have surprised me so much. It’s very clear that Loeb has a keen eye on what will work for a specific film and what won’t. I’m eagerly awaiting his next project.
In the end, PIECES OF A WOMAN is probably the most challenging movie I’ve watched all year. Not only due to how depressing the story itself is, but how slowly the film moves along. It asks you to be patient and really dive into the emotional core, which I ended up finding incredibly powerful overall, even though the subject matter was almost too much to take in at times. The graphic nature of how certain things are displayed almost had me in tears alone. This is a film that doesn’t hold back. It tells you the honest truth about situations like this and I found that very powerful. Not many viewers will be able to sit through this movie and want to call it great, but that’s exactly what I believe it to be. A great, great piece of drama, even if it’s brutally hard to watch.