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Let's Discuss: Netflix's 'Pieces Of A Woman' Movie And Martha

Pieces of a Woman Martha Weiss Vanessa Kirby Netflix
Benjamin Loeb / Netflix

What makes a woman whole? That is one of the main questions at the core of the Netflix drama “Pieces of a Woman.” In this case, a woman named Martha. The film is one of Netflix’s latest Oscar hopefuls, and it comes armed with one of the platform’s brightest rising stars to-date, taking center stage as the aforementioned, Martha.

To her credit, “Pieces of a Woman” marks yet another breakout turn from Vanessa Kirby, who beguiled as the first Princess Margaret on the royal Netflix drama “The Crown.” The movie opens on Martha (Kirby), a heavily pregnant soon-to-be-mom and upper-middle-classer living in Boston. Martha and her partner, Sean (Shia LeBeouf), have decided on doing a home birth. Things do not end well.

*Mild* Spoiler Alert For Those Who Have Not Watched The Trailer

As you might have read or heard elsewhere, the opening of “Pieces of a Woman” is intense on many levels. The aftermath is equally evocative in a subdued manner that plays like a kettle about to whistle at any moment. What begins as two young parents deeply in love while anticipating the splendor of first-time parenthood is upended by the first act as their baby girl dies shortly after her birth.

Both souls are plunged into turmoil, and a quietly bitter war between broken hearts gets waged as Martha and Sean gradually turn against one another. Martha “turtles,” turning inward in a way that shuns any outside help, including her mother’s. She is adrift, failing to turn a smidgen of empathy towards anyone else touched by her unconscionable pain. 

Related: 'Pieces Of A Woman' Ending: Midwife Trial's Outcome, Explained

This is “Pieces of a Woman,” and as the title suggests, Martha is understandably smashed to smithereens. Non-verbal cues such as fading nail polish underscore unspoken trauma and despair. Meanwhile, the court case against the attending midwife serves as the backbone for the ensuing chapters. Martha’s cousin pushes credulity as the prosecuting attorney (a conflict of interest, see: “The Trial”), and you have a recipe for something dramatically multi-layered. 

Grief is a winding road with more than one passenger, and when it comes to the loss that “Pieces of a Woman” explores, that is even more true. Sean, Martha’s mother, her sister, and almost everyone else gets dismissed by Martha. This viewer had a hard time entirely getting behind her for that very reason. 

Others are hurting too, and yet no amount of empathy is shown to them by Martha and the pain they are going through as they watch her (a loved one) suffer. It is “Pieces of a Woman,” and while the woman known as Martha aches, so does her partner. The sadness of a father’s bliss getting cut short gets more than a few emotional glimpses.

Pieces of a Woman Vanessa Kirby Martha Netflix
Benjamin Loeb / Netflix

In the end, Sean gets eclipsed by a script that spins him into a man with destructive external and internal tendencies. In a world that struggles to openly acknowledge a loss such as this, I wonder if it was necessary to twist a sympathetic father into such a messy figure.

It is as if “Pieces of a Woman” does not feel it can fully explore the shattered pieces of a man because of what it believes it might do to viewers’ perception of the woman at the center of the story. Sean starts out as an equally sympathetic character, only to get tossed under the bus without much service from the writing.

“Pieces of a Woman” should not have to come at the paternal character’s expense, and it does. For a man used to building bridges, Sean is refused a chance to bridge the divide that he and Martha endure. Martha does not seem to care how her family feels about the baby’s remains. Nor does she sympathize when Sean makes a heartbreaking plea (“I miss her”) regarding their daughter’s nursery, and it gets worse.

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In a sign of her growing tunnel vision, Martha dismantles a tender gesture from Sean. An action that only proves to further speak to her lack of empathy. Add in an incredibly stirring monologue by Martha’s mother (a bravura Ellen Burstyn) that leaves Martha unmoved, and I do not quite get it. In a movie about healing, shouldn’t all wounds get explored?

Especially when close loved ones are touched by the same tragedy? Personally, the answer is “yes.” People who have experienced such a loss all deserve to get heard, and yet “Pieces of a Woman” closes its ears a bit too much where certain characters stand.

If you have read this far (thank you), you may be wondering why you should have spent your time reading this “Pieces of a Woman” review instead of one by a much more profound name. Hopefully, you have read something in this review that others have not quite stated. This is not about judging Martha’s grief. It is about how she responds to others’.

What Martha endures is the worst pain imaginable, and she deserves empathy. I just wish she granted the same consideration to others. Personally speaking, that is the piece that is missing from this woman. “Pieces of a Woman” is currently streaming on Netflix along with a lot of other worthy-to-watch movies.

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