Directed by Marc Turtletaub, who produced Sundance faves Little Miss Sunshine and Sunshine Cleaning, Puzzle is the story of Agnes, a woman in her 40s who has yet to push the limits of her proscribed identity of wife and mother. Her life consists of taking care of her husband and two college-age sons and taking part in her local Catholic church. But when she receives a jigsaw puzzle for her birthday, it leads her to begin venturing out and finding that life has a lot more to offer. Kelly Macdonald (No Country for Old Men, Boardwalk Empire ) is simply perfect as the awakening protagonist, putting together the pieces of her new life and realizing her own worth. It’s not a big film, but it is satisfying.
Agnes lives in Connecticut, just a bit up the river from New York, and she hasn’t been into the city for years. Her time is taken up with pretty mundane chores. The opening scene says it all, as she bakes and serves her own birthday cake and cleans up at her own party, as her husband and sons don’t lift a finger to help. But one of the guests gives her a puzzle, and she finds she loves putting it together and wants another. And the shop it came from is in the city. There she sees an ad for someone wanting a puzzle partner, and so meets Robert (Irrfan Khan, The Lunchbox, Slumdog Millionaire), a rich inventor who appreciates her for her puzzling skills but also she’s here for herself. There is a big puzzle tournament that is coming up and the two of them practice a couple of times a week, while their relationship develops. Agnes lies to her family about where she’s going and what she is doing, and you know she’s going to get caught, but by the time she does, she’s actually up to the task of owning her actions.
When the film opens Agnes feels like she’s living in another, earlier era, trapped in her domestic circumstances. But by the somewhat surprising ending, she’s firmly in the 21st century #GirlPower world. Along the way, the script allows her to discover herself and see the trap she’s been ignoring for most of her life. It’s not that her husband and kids are bad. It’s just that they’re also trapped in the world of the culture that raised them. But even they’re changed by the end. Kelly Macdonald’s performance really makes the movie. It’s a small character driven film, that’s by turns sad, and funny, and uplifting. And if that’s your thing, I highly recommend it.