Though she’s had an excellent career, Kelly Macdonald is an under the radar actress whose diverse body of work (No Country for Old Men, Trainspotting, Boardwalk Empire) doesn’t stop her from getting overlooked. She refreshingly takes center stage in Puzzle, and it’s a tale that on would guess resonates with the Scottish actress.
Director Marc Turtletaub starts Puzzle with a birthday party in a suburban home as Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) prepares everything, including the cake, for her family and the guests. The biggest surprise is it’s actually her birthday. Her dutiful but clueless husband Louie (David Denman) and sons Gabe (Austin Abrams) and Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) barely lift a finger.
Louie’s an auto mechanic who works all day with his sons at the body shop while Agnes is the homemaker. Her activities outside her family include helping out in activities at her local Church, and for twenty odd years married life has given her a steady and predictable path.
Things take a turn for the sublime after Agnes opens a 1,000 piece puzzle, a birthday gift that ends up changing her life. Tracking down the puzzle store in New York, she eventually befriends Robert (The Lunchbox’s Irrfan Khan), a lonely inventor in Manhattan in need of a puzzle companion. Having separated from his wife (his previous puzzle partner), Robert is focused on winning a puzzle competition, and Agnes, who quickly realizes she has a facility for the sport, may be his winning ticket.
The twice a week commute to New York eventually takes a toll on Agnes, as she navigates her newfound friendship and deceives her family in the process. A lie, even if it’s initially built on good intentions, isn’t the way to go.
Having living a sheltered life, carrying for her father and now her own family, Agnes finds a new focus on her puzzles and Robert. She’s just dear old dependable mom to her loved ones, but Agnes is a deceptively smart and strong-willed woman, and her new lease on life leads to unexpected consequences.
Working on an Oren Moverman (The Messenger) penned script and based on the Argentinian film Rompecabezas, Puzzle could have easily devolved into a cliche driven melodrama, but thankfully Turtletaub and company steer clear of this seemingly inevitable pitfall. Inspired by his own mother’s domestic life, Turtletaub approaches the material with a clear eyed yet loving attachment to his characters, thereby giving each of the characters layered dimensions that infuses the tale with a refreshing amount of realism.
There is so much more than meets the eye when encountering Agnes, and for that matter, Macdonald. The actress plumbs the depths of her character’s soul with an unwavering amount of subtlety, and Agnes’ fateful decision is delivered in a surprisingly resounding fashion. Puzzle’s ensemble cast does wonderful work in the film, but ultimately this movie rests on Macdonald’s shoulders. She’s more than up to the task, and thanks to inspired storytelling from Turtletaub, Puzzle encourages us to push forth towards a scary yet possibly life altering direction, one piece at a time.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Puzzle opens in New York and Los Angeles on July 27.