Reel Shorts | Puzzle

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

“When you complete a puzzle, you know that you have made all the right choices.”

Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) is a suburban mother. She has devoted her life to the care and maintenance of her family. Her oldest son is Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) has graduated high school but seems stuck. Her other son, Gabe (Austin Abrams) is graduating from high school with plans to go to college and has started dating a Buddhist. Her husband, Louie (David Denman) is a hard-working but inattentive provider for the family. On her birthday Agnes receives two gifts, an iPhone, which she is unsure that she needs or wants and a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle of the world, which intrigues her. One day in the middle of her daily chores of shopping, laundry, and cooking, Agnes takes the time out to complete the puzzle. She completes it in only a couple of hours. Feeling the satisfaction of having completed something, she finds the store in the city where the puzzle was bought and goes there to buy more. While in the store, she sees a strange and plain ad for someone who is “desperately seeking” a puzzle partner. Little does Agnes know that answering the ad will change her life, forever.

When she answers the ad, Agnes meets Robert (Irrfan Khan), a rich inventor, who won the National Jigsaw Puzzle Championship and is looking for a partner in the doubles competition. When Agnes shows Robert her ability, he becomes intoxicated with her talent and immediately makes her his partner.

Puzzle is a beautiful and delicate movie based upon the also delicate Argentine film, Rompecabezas written and directed by Natalia Smirnoff. In this version, written by Oren Moverman (The Messenger, Love and Mercy) and Polly Mann, take great care to emphasize the loneliness and isolation of Agnes. A number of crucial elements are changed from the source material, most notably the source of the original puzzle. In the source, the children provide their mother with the puzzle. In this version, the puzzle comes from a source outside the home which allows the audience to infer how out of touch the family is to their matriarch.

Marc Turtletaub leaves his traditional role of producer to direct this film. He turns in an exquisite work that uses shadows and smoke to create mood and atmosphere. He frames his actors, Macdonald, Khan and Denman impeccably which allows them to emote and communicate sometimes even without speaking a word. Turtletaub credits his ability to direct to those he has worked with previously, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), Jeff Nichols (Loving) and Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed).

Despite all the great work of Turtletaub, the movie is the vehicle to display the prowess of Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald (No Country For Old Men, Brave). Macdonald plays the meek, timid and meticulous with familiarity and shares the development of her character convincingly with the audience right up to the last scene. Macdonald admits that she was inspired by silent films in creating the Anges character who has little dialogue at first. Macdonald’s performance is award winning and is an early contender for recognition.

Besides a few continuity issues, the only problem with the film is its end. At first reception, the movie seems to be working to a certain conclusion but then takes a turn to offer another escape for Agnes. While the movie has shown the development of character, confidence, and independence for Agnes, the ending created by Macdonald, Turtletaub, and company appears to be too much of a jump in growth for the character. It is a good ending that would have been great if Agnes had reached some more personal discovery.

Rated R, for language, Puzzle is a tender and honest look at the family and how time changes our intentions, desires, and dreams. Fueled by the performances of Macdonald and director Turtletaub, it is a need-to-see early Oscar contender.

Grade: B

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