Puzzle (2018)

26 Aug

Married housewife and mother of two teenage boys, Angus (Kelly Mcdonald) is having an existential crisis. She has spent the last 25 years married to Louie (David Denman), a kind-hearted father and husband but one who is completely oblivious to his wife’s internal struggles and desires.  Directed by long-time indie producer Marc Turtletaub (Little Miss Sunshine, Loving), Puzzle follows Agnus’ personal struggle as she tries to self-assess her future and cope with the anxieties of her marital relationship by becoming obsessed with jigsaw puzzles.

Angus’ life is one of complacency. She spends the days tediously cleaning house, shopping, and attentively participating in her local church group’s social activities. Drifting aimlessly in the mundane space between depression and contentment, the film opens on her birthday where she receives two items that change the course of her life. The first, a smart phone completely overwhelms her; “Why can’t I just call them on my home phone like I’m used to?” she asks he children. The second, a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, which captures her attention almost immediately and sets her on a course to meet Robert (Irrfan Khan), a competitive puzzle-solving enthusiast.  The two form an odd, but endearing relationship which serves at the catalyst for Agnus to begin questioning her constraining domestic life.

Taking cues straight from indie-dramas playbook, Puzzle disappointingly is a bit too predictable in its narrative. While we might have seen shades of this movie many times before, Turtletaub brings enough power to the film though quiet, nuanced moments that begin to compound on one another as the film progresses (more drama is revealed through facial expressions of one particular moment where Angus examines herself in a mirror than can be found in any Marvel movie). Of course, a film like this would disintegrate if not for MacDonald’s stellar portrayal of an imperfect but still deeply likeable protagonist. She fits the role like a glove and brings nuance to her character even when the screenplay demands to be overly saccharine.

The same can not be said for her husband Louie. As good as a performance Denman gives, he is deeply typecast and envokes nearly every lousy-husband trope imaginable complete with contrived one-liners like “puzzles are for little kids Agnus” or “cooking isn’t a man’s job to do.”

Still, Puzzle is more that the sum of its separate parts, and the film manages to make a successful U-turn from its rocky first act into a nicely quiet and mature examination of a woman in crisis. All without any unnecessary chutzpah of high-stakes melodrama.

Bottom Line: Though it leans a bit too much into its unearned sentimentality, Puzzle eventually embodies a subtle and affecting story about self-assessment complete with a superb performance by Kelly Macdonald. 

 

Rating: 6.2

Film Recipe: LaggiesThe Ice Storm 

 

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