A film based on the competitive world of puzzling – not the most riveting storyline, right? But much like a jigsaw, Puzzle, forces viewers to retreat from the commodities of modern day life and offers a heart-warming sense of satisfaction when complete.
Directed by Little Miss Sunshine’s, Marc Turtletaub, Puzzle tells the story of church goer, Agnes (played by Kelly Macdonald) and her life of bleak routine. Her identity is shielded by her traditional maternal roles – which sees her dedicate her life to caring for her husband, Louie (David Denman) and their two teenage sons, Ziggy and Gabe. Whether it’s cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping or waking her family up every morning, without fail, Agnes is a downtrodden housewife who feels she’s missing an important piece of life’s puzzle.
Summed up best by Agnes herself, her life: “Isn’t bad, but it isn’t good.”
Within the first twenty minutes, we know what it’s like to be Agnes. We watch as she prepares for a birthday party – hanging banners, serving food and checking everyone (including her husband) if they’re having a nice time. So it’s unexpected when we realise she’s the one blowing out birthday candles. Discovering that Agnes planned her own birthday party – even down to baking her own cake – we’re given an insight into her life and how she’s taken for granted, bordering on invisible.
Comfortable in her safe, traditional life, receiving a new phone as a birthday gift doesn’t appeal to a gadget-phobe Agnes. Instead, she’s more interested in a jigsaw puzzle given to her by her aunt. And true to the words of her eldest son, Ziggy, everything Agnes does, she’s good at – especially puzzles.
Inspired by her new-found hobby, she steps out of her comfort zone. She visiting a once familiar, but now overwhelming, scary New York City to satisfy her puzzling talents. It’s in the small but sweet puzzle shop that Agnes becomes acquainted with Irrfan Khan’s character, Robert – a competitive puzzler (and wealthy inventor), who she forms a partnership with to compete in a national puzzling competition.
On the surface, both characters seem worlds apart. Yet there’s undoubtedly a connection. Both are dissatisfied with their current lives and have an inherent feelings of loneliness. Robert reveals his wife left him and that his selfishness meant he never wanted children. And although Agnes’s husband, Louie isn’t a terrible person, he doesn’t appreciate her intelligence. In Louie’s world, he’s the breadwinner and she’s the housewife – and that’s how it should be. Plus, deep down he’s scared that if she starts to leave her comfort zone often, she’ll not want him anymore.
Perhaps it’s their shared love of puzzles or their strong feelings of loneliness that sparks a romantic energy between Agnes and Robert. Either way, it’s this that helps Agnes blossom and encourage her to go on a journey of self-discovery. Robert’s gentle, open-minded approach is the catalyst that helps Agnes realise there’s more to life than serving men or wasting time on attending church sermons and meetings when you’ve lost your faith.
The pacing of Puzzle is slow yet thoughtful (like a puzzle, fancy that). It trades action and tying up loose ends for character development and growth: the moment Agnes refuses to buy Louie’s favourite cheese from the store and calls her youngest (fairly obnoxious) son a ’punk’ is so rewarding. She develops into a head strong, independent woman.
Puzzle highlights the importance of self-value and making time for yourself and the things you enjoying doing. Ironically Agnes (the least egocentric person on the planet) is selfish in the sense that although she cares about Robert, she cares about her family more and essentially uses him to help rediscover herself and learn her true value – something Louie lectured her on earlier:
“You’re gonna get used again. People always use you.”
Puzzle could (and more than likely will) easily slip-under the Film Twitter’s radar. But it deserves recognition. It prompts you to consider your own life:
Are you in a career you love?
Is that person really right for you?
Are you happy with your life right now?
Or maybe you’ll recognise the familiar feeling of sensing you too are missing a piece of life’s puzzle. I’d give it 4/5 flicks.
Disclaimer: If you hate seeing completed puzzles destroyed, this film isn’t for you.