Puzzle: A Character Study in a Period-esque Drama

Kelly Macdonald appears in Puzzle by Marc Turtletaub, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Chris Norr.

Kelly Macdonald delivers a strong performance as all the pieces fit nicely into Puzzle.

Puzzle plays out like a period drama except for one minor detail: smartphones.  Oren Moverman and Polly Mann’s screenplay, based on 2009’s Argentine film Rompecabezas, manages to give us a sharp character study of a middle-aged woman.

Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) is in her early 40s.  She’s not a woman who tends to leave her community.  She isn’t fully reclusive but when she does leave the community to do something, she makes it count.  It’s the minute in which Agnes gets a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle for her birthday in which everything changes.  Her whole world as she knew it is no longer the same.

“It’s like carrying a little robot in your purse,” Agnes says of smartphones.  She’s very reluctant about leaving the 20th century behind her.

Even though Agnes isn’t great at putting puzzles together, she practices and reaches a higher level of talent.  Not just any particular level but that of being a jigsaw champion!  Only in the movies, am I right?  A rare trip into New York City to buy a puzzle at Puzzlemania leads Agnes to call Robert (Irrfan Khan) after seeing his ad for a puzzle partner.  Robert is an inventor who doesn’t get out much but he needs a new partner for the National Jigsaw Puzzle Championships.

This newfound change in Agnes’ life comes as a shock to her husband, Louie (David Denman), and sons Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) and Gabe (Austin Abrams).  Agnes lies about where she’s going every Monday and Wednesday so as to not blow her cover.  Every moment spent with Robert is a moment spent away from her family.  It’s through this experience that Agnes soon learns to stand up for herself.

Playing puzzles offers Agnes the opportunity to do something fun in her life for a change.  If you’re not having an adventure, you’re not truly living.  In playing puzzles together at a championship level, Robert is able to offer Agnes a new sense of meaning and purpose.  Until Agnes received a puzzle set for her birthday, she was just your ordinary suburban homemaker that rarely left the community.  She wasn’t a one note character.  She was just a middle-aged woman who just happens to be there and do everything for her family.

It’s a well-directed film by Marc Turtletaub.  Known more so for his producing side, the Little Miss Sunshine producer makes his directorial debut with the New York-set film.  He truly allows for Kelly Macdonald to shine in her performance.

Roles such as Agnes don’t come around all that often but when they do, Puzzle makes it truly count.

DIRECTOR:  Marc Turtletaub
SCREENWRITER:  Oren Moverman and Polly Mann
CAST:  Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman, Bubba Weiler, Austin Abrams, Liv Hewson

Puzzle held its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres program.  Sony Pictures Classics will release Puzzle on July 27, 2018 with theatrical expansion to follow.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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