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THE MOVIE GUY — Great performances but uneven story in “Pieces of a Woman.”

“Pieces of a Woman”

Netflix Films

Directed by Kornel Mundruczo

Starring Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Iliza Schlesinger, Sarah Snook and Molly Parker

Rated R

 

3 Stars

 

I have conflicted feelings about the new Netflix film, “Pieces of a Woman.”

It starts off with a bang, with a powerful scene that follows a woman named Martha (Vanessa Kirby) through a home birth using one continuous camera shot.

That 24-minute shot gives the viewer intimate access to this woman’s struggles to give birth. It’s a powerful opening, and easily the best part of the movie.

The rest of the film isn’t on the same level.

Please forgive the SPOILER, but you can’t talk about this film without saying that the baby dies soon after birth. The bulk of this movie deals with what happens to the Martha’s family relationships after this devastating tragedy.

Shia LaBeouf plays the husband, who starts off as a doting new father, but quickly spirals into anger and addiction following the death of his child.

He needs to blame somebody, so he presses charges against the doula (Molly Parker) because she didn’t call for an ambulance soon enough.

The other major character is Martha’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) who has some opinionated thoughts about home birth. The film gets great mileage out of the clash between Martha, her mother and her husband.

All three of these central performances are very good, although I think they get a little too showy at times. These are the types of meaty roles that actors love to sink their teeth into. I wouldn’t be surprised to find any of them garnering Academy Award nominations for these performances.

My biggest problem is with the screenplay, which meanders along after the superb opening, exposing the different opinions of these three characters, but it’s never quite sure how to make sense of the conflict.

It doesn’t help that the characters are reluctant to talk about their feelings, which would probably be true in real life, but it does cause a bit of whip lash when caution is suddenly thrown out the window so we can get to a big actor emoting scene. It feels like manufactured drama rather than something integral to the story.

The same holds true for a third act twist that doesn’t feel motivated.

I understand the need to wrap things up, but without seeding the ground beforehand, the ending feels false.

Those issues aside, “Pieces of a Woman” is still a very good film. The filmmaking craft at the beginning as well as the acting performances make this into one of the year’s best movies. The film doesn’t sustain that level of quality throughout, but there is certainly enough here to satisfy fans of difficult family dramas and big, actorly performances.

“Pieces of a Woman” is currently playing in select theaters and streaming on Netflix.

 

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Port Arthur Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.