Shy, reticent and completely taken for granted, Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) has rarely done anything for herself. A devoted wife, mother and church member, Agnes spends her days cleaning up after and cooking for her husband Louie (David Denman) and adult sons Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) and Gabe (Austin Abrams) until one day, she discovers she has a knack for solving jigsaw puzzles impressively fast. Her talent leads her to meet Robert (Irrfan Khan), who encourages her to partner up with him so they can enter jigsaw solving competitions together.
In spite of a variety of starring roles in the likes of ‘Trainspotting’, ‘Intermission’, ‘No Country for Old Men’, ‘Nanny McPhee’, ‘Boardwalk Empire’ and even Disney Pixar’s ‘Brave’, Kelly Macdonald remains an actress who has not gotten the recognition for the talent that she is. In a way then, the role of Agnes is tailor-made for her, and Macdonald is able to evoke deep-felt empathy in audiences through her performance. The opening to ‘Puzzle’ consists of a twist which is particularly exemplary of this, and sets up Agnes as a woman trapped in a traditional role that to some seems old-fashioned, but for many is the reality.
Opposite Agnes, as her respective life and gaming partners, are husband Louie and inventor Robert, with both ‘The US Office’ star David Denman and ‘Jurassic World’s Irrfan Khan taking well to the respective roles. While Louie is by no means a bad man, the film progresses to represent him as a small town man with a narrow upbringing which in turn also has him entrapped by tradition and heteronormativity. Meanwhile Robert’s good-natured, quietly confident, playful attitude helps Agnes come out of her shell.
Witnessing Agnes’s family change just as she does is nicely done, for both her marriage and relationships with her sons become affected as she starts doing things for herself and insisting on authority in the household. The storyline of her involvement with the local church and community, however, seems glazed over and not properly integrated. The storyline also sees a shift from being less about an unusual sport to being a traditional romantic plot. While this is not done suddenly and nonsensically, it may be disappointing for those who wanted to see more behind the curtains of the competitive jigsaw solving world.
In any case, ‘Puzzle’ is sold thanks to its bittersweet plot and outstanding performance from Macdonald as the lead. She is angelic and sincere as Agnes, a woman who, for the first time, has found something she is truly excited about, and having been totally selfless all her life, realises that self-care is important too.