Thursday, January 7, 2021

Pieces of a Woman


Newlyweds Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are expecting their first child together, a daughter they plan to name Yvette. He hails from Seattle and works in construction, his current project being a bridge he plans to complete with his team just in time for his daughter’s birth. She comes from a family of three women from Massachusetts and always seems to be in loggerheads with her mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn), who does not really approve of her husband. Excited to be a grandmother, she buys the couple a minivan, much to his chagrin. As Martha goes into labor, Sean calls the midwife assigned to them to assist in the birth, except that she has an emergency and is not available that night. Enter Eva (Molly Parker), another midwife they barely know yet have no choice but to trust. As what is supposed to be the happiest moment of their lives becomes their worst nightmare, the pair tries to piece together what remains of their broken family.

In terms of performance, Kirby totally owns this. Personally, I am not familiar with her work and this is the first time I am seeing her act onscreen. For the likes of Martha’s role, we are used to seeing portrayals characterized by hysterics, actresses grandstanding with their entire bodies as if telling you, hey look at me, I’M SUFFERING! Kirby opts for subtlety. She has two or three intense scenes in this film but for most part she is quiet, distant, and rather aloof. Even then, you can feel her pain through her nuances. Less is more indeed. I guess I am now a fan?

LaBeouf is okay. Sean’s character is written to be the more touchy-feely of the two, which some would dismiss as him being a wuss, which men are also allowed to be by the way. Affective, nonetheless. He could have had a good shot at a supporting actor nod. Too bad the controversy surrounding him basically killed his chances. Netflix will probably be distancing themselves from him come campaign season and focus more on a double nomination for Kirby and Burstyn.

Burstyn has a stronger chance in the supporting race than her male co-star. Despite her relative lack of screen time, her presence is strong enough to command your attention, not to mention that monologue of hers at the dinner table. It has been 45 years since she won her sole Oscar in 1975 for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, a year after her nomination for The Exorcist. Her last nomination was in 2001 in Requiem for a Dream. It’d be nice to see her as a nominee once again.

At first, I did not understand the symbolism of the bridge. It serves as a constant background to show the date, month after month from the beginning of the story. In the end, it is finally completed, and you see Martha there ready to move on with her life. That is when you realize that the bridge serves as a metaphor for her journey as she phases through each stage of grief, from denial to anger and eventually, acceptance. The story does not end there but offers a smooth transition to the final scene.

The final scene is a bit confusing because we are left to guess as to what happened to Martha and Sean. Do they end up together? Whose kid is Lucianna? Is that apple tree that the young girl climbs on the result of Martha’s sprouting project? There are so many questions left but as the camera lingers on the damn tree, you come to the realization that the details are not really important anymore. What is of value is the fact that she managed to move on from a tragic chapter of her life. That is the moral of the story after all.

The film suffered a bit of a backlash for the not so appealing portrayal of home birth, some arguing that it could lead to the false notion that home births are dangerous in general. In the end, though, this is not a movie about home birth. This is a story about a woman’s grief and how she rebuilds her life afterwards. In that regard, this narrative succeeds as a showcase of such. Poignant, silent, and heartbreaking, just as grieving is supposed to be.

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