The typical definition of “Oscar Bait” refers to those films that have particular themes and narrative arcs that will make whatever production it is get seen more favourably by awards voters. In the past several years there is an alternative but similar form of awards pandering has become prevalent. this critic will call it “the naturalism paradox.” This refers to the prioritisation a “realistic” approach in the writing and performances. They use this as their main selling point regardless of whatever other merits individual examples may have. This approach has become especially popular in an age where A24 and distributors like it have overtaken the discourse on social media. The annoying thing is that features utilising the naturalism paradox can use it effectively regardless of its existence as a vehicle for this approach. It results in a style and tone that will win acclaim from festival audience and critics before being released to the general public and going precisely nowhere. The paradox can be pulled off effectively but projects that don’t have several other merits can be a weird experience. Enter Pieces of a Woman starring Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn and Molly Parker. The film played extensively on the festival circuit in 2020 before being hoovered up by Netflix in there continuing attempt to conquer the film distribution world. It’s a naturalism paradox utilising drama focusing on the aftermath of botched home birth ( with Kirby and LaBeouf as the central couple and Parker as the nurse responsible.) It opens with a hugely extended 35 minutes pre-title sequence showcasing the central event. This is a driving force for the rest of the narrative. It’s objectively well constructed with strong and effective performances from those involved. that said little else is offered. Viewers that don’t buy into the naturalism may well realise they’re essentially watching Sam Witwicky and Princess Margaret give birth with Maureen Robinson (2018 edition) as the midwife. Certain critics and those who appreciate this type of presentation in filmmaking will appreciate the film. audiences that may want something deeper and more substantive will be left high and dry.
Then the main narrative begins in earnest. The rest of the runtime is a relatively conventional emotional driven legal drama. The central couple attempt to get Parker prosecuted for the death of their child. For this kind of misery, dramas to be effective the sense of emotional heft needs to be sold authentically through strong writing and performances. Some strong recent examples in this subgenre include Manchester by The Sea, LeBoeuf’s Honey Boy and Ken Loach’s I Daniel Blake. Pieces of a Woman has the performance element of the formula nailed down. The problem is that the sense of weight the film so desperately wants to achieve feels entirely inauthentic. The narrative wants to examine the emotional and interpersonal impact of such a devastating event on the central characters. Unfortunately, the script sells it in such a way that reminded this critic of online music reviewer Todd in the Shadows joke analysis of the lyrics to Lewis Capaldi Someone You Loved. I’m sad, I’m sad, I’m sad, I’m SAD.
This endeavour comes across as being entirely put together by a certain type of creative team. The filmmakers know if they can sell the naturalism paradox effectively nothing else will matter to a particular stripe of critics. That said even the worst films have to deal with some element of legacy. For projects like Pieces of a Woman, its legacy could be less than nothing. While striving for realism in film is appreciated in some regards by this critic. That said he does want to see some films like this fail in the future. Otherwise tepid films with one stand out or effective element are the hardest to review as a viewer and critic. The capacity to be as harsh as reviewers might want to be is limited.
Pieces of a Woman is far from awful. The merits within the excellent lead performances see to that single-handedly. That said it’s representative of a style of exclusively naturalism focused critic pandering film making. This that said that can be very draining if one is not automatically invested in new release awards discourse on platforms like Twitter and Letterboxed. Productions like this continue to see success with critics and on the awards circuit. At this point, there will be no reason for certain filmmakers and studios not to make pandering realism focused dramas regardless of any mainstream appeal or legacy. All media at some point has to deal with the question of a footprint. Culturally financially or in terms of its impact on discourse. Projects that employ the naturalism paradox above other value might be lucky in appearing on some critic year-end lists. This could well be the only legacy they have. There will always be certain creatives that strive for this exclusively. Well, that is fine for my filmmaking perspective. However other factors need to be present for whatever form it is to strike some kind of relevance. This will give whatever piece of media giving it a longer and more defined legacy.
Pieces of a Woman rating, 5/10.