TV Review: The secrets and lies of a mother highlight Toni Collette and Bella Heathcote crime drama ‘Pieces of Her’ [Grade: B-]
Back at the university, we had a class about family history, going back to our roots, and discovering our ancestors. Many stories we learned about include brutal collisions with reality, especially after discovering that one’s ancestors were hiding many secrets. What if you found something similarly unexpected about your loved one?
Good, old-fashioned vengeance makes for good television and in Charlotte Stoudt’s Pieces of Her, based on Karin Slaughter’s novel of the same name, the themes of revenge appear in the story of Laura and Andy, while at the same time highlighting the importance of the family and illustrating overcoming the trauma, and mother-daughter dynamic. Toni Collette, Bella Heathcote, and Gil Birmingham all give outstanding performances in the show. While it contains enough elements to satisfy crime/thriller fans, it may be a little too slow for those looking for evening or after-work entertainment. But the story manages to invite the audience back with twists and turns that surprise.
Imagine dining in a cafe when a man walks in and begins shooting your friends and everybody who stands up to him. But when he threatens to hurt Andrea “Andy” Oliver (Bella Heathcote), her mother, Laura (Toni Collette), a speech therapist by trade, is able to protect her daughter and, with a mysterious familiarity, stops the attack while in a trance-like state. The brutal event opens a can of worms as the audience follows Andy who discovers that her mother is not who she thinks she is. After the Olivers become a Belle Isle news story and Laura is unofficially recognized as a hero, the girl’s suspicions grow, especially after another attack occurs at their home. Andy realizes that she has been fed lies her entire life and sets out on a journey to uncover Laura’s past, no matter the consequences. Andrea’s present is continuously intertwined with retrospective scenes, depicting Laura as a young woman, which helps in visualizing her difficult youth.
Pieces of Her doesn’t give you time to get to know the characters right away and it’s not a bad thing, as the creators place the audience right in the middle of the shooting and highlight how Laura and Andy deal with the aftermath. Both are coping with something else; the daughter is attempting to solve the mystery of her mother’s past, while Laura is confronted with it for the first time in a long time—since she escaped an abusive relationship, changed her name, and promised to never go back and be associated with a former partner and wealthy family. From episode to episode, a new puzzle piece emerges in the narrative that answers one of the burning questions, slowly unfurling the mystery of woman’s life and keeping the audience interested enough not to abandon the show entirely, as they are finally getting to know the “real” Laura.
Toni Collette gives a satisfying performance as a woman who wants her past to remain just that—a past. Her character is a mother with many buried secrets, which intrigues the audience from the first episode. However, one of the most intense moments transpires in the sixth episode, when the actress delivers a heartbreaking, touching monologue. Bella Heathcote, previously known from Professor Marston & the Wonder Women or Neon Demon, keeps up with the Emmy Award-winner for the United States of Tara. As a mother-daughter duo, both actors create and maintain an engaging dynamic, often filled with resentment, but love nevertheless.
The series also has a high level of background performances. The story wouldn’t be the same without Jessica Barden as younger Laura and Omari Hardwich as Gordon Oliver, Laura’s ex-husband. Gil Birmingham is another member that completes the solid background cast. Because the past is so important in Pieces of Her, Barden appears frequently. The actress also bears a passing resemblance to Heathcote, which works well in the context of both being mother and daughter and looking alike.
Some things are good when they don’t change, whether in a film or a television series. When a specific formula is followed correctly, it works. There’s something enticing about a character who’s hiding their “past life,” and the show/film is meant to unravel their mysteries as the audience follows the plot. This is why, despite its lack of originality, Pieces of Her is a good watch for fans of said formula. Following a shocking, heart-pounding first episode, we are given a glimpse into one woman’s past that unfurls piece by piece—hence the title. At the same time, the show takes us to some unexpected places, especially when everything comes to a finale.
Aside from its flaws, Pieces of Her is still a thrilling, good enough crime drama with surprising twists. Among its many themes, the show explores what it’s like to live someone else’s life after losing the one known before. The show is also an interesting commentary on the complexities of mother-daughter relationships—exploring the relationship between Andy and Laura, the audience can easily feel a lot of unspoken feelings, such as Laura’s resentment towards Andy for living her true life, in opposition to Laura, whose life is “not real”; not even her name.
All those reasons are enough to begin Pieces of Her when it premieres all eight episodes of the series on Netflix on March 4. And after all, there is never enough Toni Collette, especially in a crime drama.
Photo: Mark Rogers/Netflix