SHOULD I SEE IT?
Better than it sounds, Kelly Macdonald’s outstanding performance in Puzzle is one of the best of 2018, in a movie I hope finds an audience.
Introduces us to a world movies have yet to really explore - competitive puzzling. It’s kind of a fascinating world Macdonald’s Agnes finds herself caught up in.
Well written, well-acted, sharp and technically sound, believable even when prone to melodramatic flourishes. Puzzle is a movie that will fly under the radar, but deserves to find an audience.
The melodramatic tendencies veer into predictability and it could cause some people to recoil from Agnes’ decision-making.
A domestic drama about a strained marriage and competitive puzzling. An odd premise, perhaps a tougher sell when looking at movie options.
Some will find the film unfair to those not named Agnes in this film. Sorry ‘bout that. Agnes (and Kelly Macdonald) is one of the year’s best characters.
With two grown sons, one spinning his wheels, and one saving up to go to college, Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) is stuck in neutral. Her marriage to Louie (David Denham) has become mundane, something borne of habit, frustration, and familiarity. She is a stay-at-home wife and mother, expected to have dinner on the table for the family at 5:00 p.m. every night, and lives a daily existence of laundry, vacuuming, dishes, and dusting, and meal preparation.
Marc Turtletaub’s new film, Puzzle, is fascinated by Agnes. Framing her with what as well be invisible crosshairs, almost relegating her to confined, poorly lit and tight spaces, she has no light in her life. She cannot breathe on her own. She is losing her identity right before our eyes, but not her family’s.
When the film opens, Agnes is feverishly putting together a birthday celebration. Clearly, she is making this special for someone, and it isn’t until she brings out the candle-lit cake, after dinner, that we realize she has thrown the party for herself. At least her family serenade her with “Happy Birthday” though.
Agnes belatedly opens up one of her gifts while she is alone and finds a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Tickled, she almost feels defiant as she opens up the box and begins assembling the pieces. Before she realizes it, her afternoon is gone and she is behind on her chores. But she cannot stop thinking about that puzzle: how easily it came together and how happy she felt doing something, finally, for herself.
Never did I think a movie about a woman making puzzles would become so intriguing, but I admit that I clearly underestimated Macdonald and what she could bring to Agnes and her character’s emotional rebirth. Macdonald takes Oren Moverman and Patty Mann’s screenplay and mines it for everything she can, delivering one of the best performances of the year.
When she ventures out to find some new puzzles, Agnes sees a sign for competitive puzzling and is suddenly introducing herself to Robert (Irrfan Khan), a single man, in a large house, who needs a partner for upcoming puzzle tournaments.
Turtletaub keeps his film moving at a steady gait, even as puzzles and the idea of making a friend with Robert awakens Agnes to a new life. Her confidence allows her to stand up for her youngest son, who wants to go to culinary arts school – a profession Louie feels makes him less of a man. She pushes back against the misogyny present in her own home and marriage, and begins finding her voice. Moverman and Mann seemingly cannot resist introducing a melodramatic arc to Agnes’ story which threatens to derail Puzzle and lose some important pieces along the way.
However, Khan’s gifts as an actor and Macdonald’s terrific performance keep things afloat. We may think we know how this all will come together and look by the end, but we still enjoy seeing it come together in front of us.
A remake of a 2010 Argentinian film Rompecabezas, and led by the fantastic Macdonald, accentuated with beautiful, intimate domestic-lensed cinematography from Chris Norr, and a winning score from Oscar nominee Dustin O’Halloran (Lion), Puzzle becomes a surprisingly complex, thoughtful, and far more engaging and inviting film than you may be anticipating.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, David Denman, Irrfan Khan, Austin Abrams, Bubba Weiler, Helen Coxe, Liv Hewson, Audrie Neenan.
Director: Marc Turtletaub
Written by: Oren Moverman, Polly Mann
Based on the film “Rompecabezas”, written by Natalia Smirnoff.
Release Date: July 27, 2018
Sony Pictures Classics