By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
While there have been several films where an underappreciated and taken-for-granted housewife finds an escape from her usual rut, this particular film definitely has some strong assets in its stars Kelly Macdonald and Irrfan Khan. The two talented and charming actors share an enjoyably awkward chemistry and are working with a solid script which acknowledges the messiness of life and its choices. This may all sound a bit too heavy and perhaps dull for a movie about relationships and the interest of competitive puzzling. However, the script by Oren Movermann and Polly Mann (based on the Argentine film Rombecapezas), the competent direction by Marc Turtletaub, and the perfectly nuianced performances by the cast make Puzzle an affecting piece of indie filmmaking.
Macdonald stars as Agnes, a Connecticut housewife and mother whose day-to-day activities revolve around housekeeping and tending to the needs of her husband Louie (Davis Denham) and sons Gabe (Austin Abrams) and Ziggy (Bubba Weiler). Her life takes a most unexpected turn when she receives what would normally be a thoughtless birthday gift in the form of a jigsaw puzzle. On one particularly boring day at home, Agnes decides to work on the 1,000-piece puzzle and discovers a hidden talent after finishing it in a short amount of time. After feeling much satisfaction from her accomplishment, Agnes seeks out the source of the gift, a puzzle store in New York City where she discovers an ad by someone seeking a partner for a puzzling competition. That is how she meets Robert (Khan), a one-time inventor who lives off the wealth earned for his invention, and spends most of his time watching the news and practicing for a puzzling competition. As Agnes and Robert continue to meet and practice for the New York contest, they share a mutual admiration for one another and this new relationship begins to take its toll on Agnes’s life with her family.
Though this film has much in common with others like it, I was still quite taken with Puzzle and all it has to offer. The filmmakers have taken the interest of competitive puzzling and have used it as a thoughtful allegory on life and how we as humans often attempt to understand the order and reasoning of it all. Both Agnes and Robert feel certain degrees of dissatisfaction in their lives and puzzles give them a feeling of control and accomplishment. Their puzzles, when finished, feel perfect and often look beautiful, but this doesn’t necessarily reflect their messy and dull realities. This skillfully developed and executed allegory is what really kept me invested in this movie. The filmmakers pull this off well with their writing and especially, with the development of their characters.
As I noted above, the performances by Macdonald and Khan really hit home, as do the performances by the supporting cast. And though this movie might seem like the usual, “housewife finds her own groove” type of movie, everything plays out realistically with no perfect solutions. Puzzle keeps the ideal scenario embedded in the fantasy of its jigsaw pieces, but also holds the reality close to heart.