Director: Marc Turtletaub
Talent: Kelly Macdonald, David Denman, Irrfan Kahn, Buba Weiler, Austin Abrams
Released: 7 September
When protagonist Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) asks her puzzle partner why he likes assembling puzzles, he responds, “It’s a way to control the chaos.” “Puzzle” is a subtle film whose plot could have benefited from a hefty dose of that said chaos or at least a little rousing.
If you’ve ever thought that a film about people assembling puzzles would be boring, then you were absolutely right. Amazing films have been made about quiet quests, but this is no “Searching for Bobby Fischer.”
A remake of an Argentine film, “Puzzle” has Macdonald playing Agnes — a mousy suburban New Jersey housewife whose life is steeped in the mundane.
The film opens with a party scene where Agnes is seen serving house guests and at one point, is bent over on her hands and knees picking up broken glass from a plate that her oblivious but kind husband (David Denman) has knocked over.
When she later brings out a chocolate cake lit with candles, the guests begin singing happy birthday to her — yes, this is her birthday party that she has been slaving away at — and such is Agnes’ life in a nutshell.
A life that revolves around serving her husband, her two college-age sons and her church.
If you’ve seen the “Black Mirror” episode, Hated in the Nation, you are well aware of Macdonald’s abilities as a strong lead. With “Puzzle,” she does her best to work with what she has but still comes up short. Beyond a predictable plot, the main fault of this film lies in the character development — or lack thereof.
Receiving an iPhone and a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle for her birthday, Agnes frowns (literally) at the former and takes a liking to the latter. Between scenes of routine, we witness Agnes’ self-discovery of latent talent that exists beyond her servitude-like duties.
Invigorated with a new reason to get up in the morning, she takes the train to the Big Apple with the purpose of buying more puzzles. Are there no game shops in New Jersey?
While in the shop, she spots an ad, “CHAMPION DESPERATELY SEEKING PUZZLE PARTNER,” later that night she hesitantly texts the number, and following another train ride to New York, we find her in the home of Robert (Irrfan Kahn, “The Lunchbox,” “Life of Pi”) — a lonely inventor whose wife recently left him.
Impressed by her puzzle skills Robert and Agnes begin regular practice sessions as they train for the National Jigsaw Puzzle Championship. This new venture reveals parts of Agnes to herself and those around her.
Although the scenes with Khan provide respite for both Agnes and the audience, the supposed growing romantic chemistry between the two fails to convince.
Also, there are opportunities for Director Marc Turtletaub (“Little Miss Sunshine”) to investigate nuanced aspects of Agnes’ life, such as her relationship with son Ziggy (Buba Weiler), but these opportunities are poked not probed.
“Puzzle” fails to compel you to care about any of its characters. It sidesteps any meaningful narrative and misses the chance at giving viewers a glimpse into the real little-known world of competitive jigsaw puzzling. Instead, it makes a boring film about a bored lonely housewife. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good flick about lives led by quiet desperation, often they can be relatable and hard hitting — check Jennifer Aniston in “The Good Girl,” but unlike that film, “Puzzle” underwhelms.
Words: Rose Ugoalah