The metaphor might be the most obvious of the year – a housewife and mother has to find a way to piece herself back together and obtain happiness via jigsaw puzzles — but Puzzle, like the hobby itself, is a comforting escape.
A remake of a 2010 Argentine film of the same name, Puzzle is a quiet and heartwarming drama starring Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald (No Country for Old Men) as Agnes, the aforementioned wife and doting homemaker to her blue-collar husband and pair of teenage sons.
Agnes loves her family, but something is missing — something she can’t get from grocery shopping or Bible studying or recipe collecting. She is unfulfilled and wants to do something that will make her feel accomplished. She experiences this unfamiliar sensation when she receives a jigsaw puzzle for her birthday and realizes she’s a natural at putting it together. Traveling by train from her home in Connecticut to New York City to buy another, she is swept into the world of jigsaw puzzles when she meets Robert (Irrfan Khan), a lonely hobbyist looking for a new puzzle partner for an upcoming competition.
Of course, jigsaw puzzle competitions, or puzzles in general – as exciting as that sounds as a movie plot – isn’t the real reason Agnes and Robert connect. This isn’t a film like Searching for Bobby Fischer or Akeelah and the Bee where audiences are going to witness a competitor’s skill level rise as he or she prepares for a final, nail-biting tournament. No, Puzzle is about what is essential for Agnes’s growth as a person, which includes Robert’s passion for puzzles and his belief that Agnes can evolve into the independent woman she wants to become.
Replace puzzles with just about any other activity you can think of — bread making, swing dancing, bird watching — and you’ll likely have the same film as long as Macdonald and Khan are at the center of the narrative. Macdonald’s performance is intimate and subtle, lending itself perfectly to her restrained character. Khan, once again, is a master of monologue (Life of Pi and the third season of HBO’s In Treatment are great examples of this). Paired together, they form a beautiful platonic relationship that flourishes for nearly the duration of the film.
Sadly, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Oren Moverman (The Messenger) and first-time screenwriter Polly Mann, decide to bow to convention and make Agnes and Robert more than just friends by the third act. It’s a disappointing decision, but one that happens after we’ve already come to admire how their interaction with one another has expanded their outlook on life. Puzzle might be missing a few pieces, but it’s still a pretty picture.