Friday, January 8, 2021

'Herself' almost heals as much as hurts; Kirby, Burstyn lift up 'Pieces'

Two movies just starting to stream on big providers offer first-rate performances from actresses playing a pair of title-featured women. (Both are also being shown exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theater in Cleveland Heights.)

Actor/writer Dunne copes with bad memories and more. 
In the Ireland-produced "Herself," debuting today on Amazon, co-writer Clare Dunne stars as a single mom, warmly caring for two sweet daughters while attempting to recover from a terribly abusive relationship. Thankfully for viewers, director Phyllida Lloyd ("The Iron Lady," "Mama Mia!") makes the wise choice of showing most of the physical violence from the brutal ex (Ian Lloyd Anderson) in flashback. Still, the heartbreaking memories, PTSD-like traits and bodily injuries left with Dunne's lovely Sandra remain disturbing enough.

What Lloyd and the screenplay so nicely spotlight instead are Sandy's attempts to make a legitimate home for her kids and, as the saying goes, it takes a village. In fact, that might mean at least a couple of Dublin city blocks worth of friends and acquaintances here. Leading the way in that regard is a terrific Dame Harriet Walter, as the tough-minded doctor Sandy cleans for in one of two jobs the hard-working, single mom tries to hold down. 

None of it might be mistaken for a fun watch, but fine work from the entire ensemble and quite a few inspiring moments do create a nicely rewarding one.

Rated "R" by MPAA: language and some domestic violence; 1:37; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5

Kirby and Burstyn talk up a storm -- legally or not. 
Not nearly as easy to absorb, especially the potent birthing segment that starts the proceedings, is the Netflix newbie, "Pieces of a Woman." Give Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo immense credit for even trying to film that 30-minute sequence in one take, let alone succeeding, at least in terms of gut-wrenching drama.

Trouble is, such early explosiveness so overpowers the subsequent fallout from what occurs even before the film's title card appears that the rest almost becomes an afterthought. That being said, the gloriously unglamorous performance by Vanessa Kirby ("Hobbs & Shaw" and "The Crown") deserves all the attention it will get, including a surefire Oscar nomination.

Throw in a few memorable daughter-mother exchanges between Kirby and ever-grand Ellen Burstyn, as not-so-dear-old Mom, and there's already some awards talk coming the latter's way as well. Just be ready to get distressed and depressed.

Rated "R" by MPAA: language, sexual content, graphic nudity and brief drug use; 2:07; $ $ $ out of $5 

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