Thirty minutes into Pieces of a Woman, I was ready to declare Vanessa Kirby a future Oscar nominee for the film. The film is now on Netflix in most territories around the world.
We named Vanessa Kirby in Pieces of a Woman one of our best lead performances of 2020. Read the full list here.
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Thirty minutes into Pieces of a Woman, I was ready to declare Vanessa Kirby a future Oscar nominee for the film. She has already picked up the Best Actress Award at Venice for her performance, the same award that launched Emma Stone’s road to her Oscar. In the film’s early 20-minute single-take birthing scene, Kirby’s Martha goes into labour and gives birth. What could be overly dramatic is, in Kirby’s hands, surprisingly underplayed but no less real: from burping, to unexpected pangs, to her repeated understatement that “This is really awful.” It’s the kind of performance that’s physically showy enough to garner awards attention and yet subtle enough to actually be good.
What’s most remarkable about that birthing scene is how it establishes the way in which Martha responds to stress and pressure, by turning in on herself. Momentarily alone in the bathtub, we understand that Martha is in sudden pain by the way Kirby unexpectedly tenses her hand in the air. Martha only occasionally swears, and usually quietly. She doesn’t want to be any trouble. Once Martha loses her child and must cope with the grief, Kirby turns further inward, in the way she taught us to expect in that first birthing scene. Staring off into space to avoid confrontation and arguments is her general modus operandus.
Kirby got her start in the theatre, and that full-body expression and commitment is evident throughout Pieces of a Woman. It’s in the way she stretches out her fingers with tension when her husband tries to force himself on her, telling us she’s clearly annoyed, but not willing to protest. It’s also in the way that her quietness should never be understood as meekness, as she can become commanding — even terrifying — at a moment’s notice. It’s in how she kicks an employee out of her office by glaring at him.
Despite having an extremely underwritten character, Kirby infuses Martha with intelligence and emotion. In the otherwise ridiculous courtroom scenes, medium shots on Kirby reveal a woman thinking, remembering, and questioning her own choices during her childbirth. At times, she’ll respond too slowly, like it’s just dawning on her the extent of what’s happened. When she feels like her intelligence is being insulted, she’ll jump on answering a question too quickly, speaking firmly. At every moment in the film, Kirby keeps us completely involved in Martha’s journey, even when the script fails to keep up with her.
Pieces of a Woman is now available on Netflix around the world.
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