REVIEW: Toni Collette leads a scattered thriller in Netflix’s ‘Pieces of Her’

Boyce Rucker, Staff Writer

Netflix’s specialty generally lies in creating a marketable series that pulls viewers in with compelling leads and a great premise, though there is the occasional misfire. Based on the 2018 novel of the same name by Karin Slaughter, “Pieces of Her” is an eight-episode series released to Netflix on March 4, 2022, starring Toni Collette as a mother whose past catches up with her. There is a strong presence in Collette, along with an intriguing, albeit overdone, premise. These elements are enough to generate excitement for the series. However, the show’s convoluted plot and a slow buildup prevent it from being an eventful watch.

Toni Collette and Bella Heathcote in ‘Pieces of Her’ (2022). (Netflix/IMDB)

When violence erupts on a trip to the mall in front of Laura Oliver (Collette) and her daughter Andy (Bella Heathcote), their relationship changes forever. After Laura takes down a gunman with ease, a hidden past comes to light that traces back to espionage and a pool of lies. Laura sends Andy away for protection, which prompts Andy to investigate her mother’s past.

The first episode sets up a fascinating mystery that grips us right away. We see the ordinariness of Laura and Andy’s everyday lives in the first six minutes before it is interrupted by a shooting. The randomness and brutality of the act seemingly indicates a tense and shocking series. On the contrary, the show fails to shock or wow viewers for the rest of the series.  

Bella Heathcote in ‘Pieces of Her’ (2022). (Netflix/IMDB)

The episode is mostly a buildup to the show’s premise as we see Laura interact with her ex-husband Gordon Oliver (Omari Hardwick) and Andy. Aside from exposition, there is a fair share of action, like the opening shooting and a fight scene at the climax. The first episode establishes exactly the kind of show it wants to be as it blends action and suspense with family drama. The series initially gives the impression that it will be along the lines of the Jason Bourne or John Wick franchises, but it is mostly driven by dialogue and stilted plot twists. After the first episode, the show’s greatest challenge becomes keeping the viewer’s attention.  

The series struggles in making the characters enjoyable or sympathetic. The series rushes through Laura and Andy’s relationship so quickly that we are unable to connect with them and become archetypal as a result. Andy is an unintentionally frustrating character as she makes illogical decisions that place herself and others in danger. She would be more tolerable if we have a reason to root for her aside from being Laura’s daughter. Similarly, Laura is a hard character to empathize with despite Collette’s talent, as she also makes questionable decisions that most viewers would deem nonsensical. We do get some backstory for her in flashbacks, with Jessica Barden playing her younger version. These scenes seem like they might advance the present-day plot, but it only further slows plot progression.

David Wenham and Jessica Barden in ‘Pieces of Her’ (2022). (Netflix/IMDB)

The show’s frequent exposition keeps it from reaching its full potential. By episode four, unnecessary backstory traps the show in a boring loop. The series fails to motivate any kind of excitement or curiosity. Good thrillers keep viewers in the dark and allow us enough information to put the pieces together ourselves. “Pieces of Her” hand-feeds us information through flashbacks starting midway through the season. When viewers receive story details only through flashbacks, the present plotline no longer keeps interest. The story could be more interesting if there were more depth to the characters. Despite the stellar supporting cast, even secondary characters fall flat. There is no nuance to any of the characters or their internal conflicts. They simply relay information to push viewers from point A to point B.

For all the show’s misgivings, Collette is the only reason to give “Pieces of Her” a watch. She embellishes Laura with a nuance that conveys regret and steeliness as her life crumbles around her. Collette imbues soul and strength into the character that keeps us glued to the screen whenever she appears. Laura is clearly neither a hero nor a villain, and Collette perfectly portrays the moral grayness that keeps us watching to see the character’s outcome. As in her other roles, particularly “Hereditary” and “Nightmare Alley,” Collette brings a genuineness and depth to this one that is unmatched.

Toni Collette and Bella Heathcote in ‘Pieces of Her’ (2022). (Netflix/IMDB)

“Pieces of Her” is certainly not one of Netflix’s best releases, but it makes for a decent time killer. The plot may not deliver, but Collette continually does. Collette picks up the pieces of this uneven Netflix drama even as it is cracked by its own dullness.

*Correction: A previous version of this article wrongly identified the actresses seen in featured photos. The article has been updated.