Puzzle is the story of Agnes (Kelly Macdonald), a stay-at-home mom who has led a mundane life. She’s married to Louie (David Denman) whom she met young. Louie has good qualities—he’s loyal and devoted—but he suppresses Agnes actively and passively, either announcing family-impacting decisions without her input, or glaring across the dinner table with eyes that scream “know your place.” After Agnes receives a jigsaw puzzle as a random present, her life begins to change.
After completing a puzzle quickly with immense satisfaction, Agnes seeks more. She acquires new, complicated ones from her local store and while shopping, something catches her eye—an ad from a person seeking a puzzling partner. Agnes responds, and meets Robert (Irrfan Khan) who is looking to compete and win at the national jigsaw tournament, and eventually at the international level. He’s charming and extroverted, something that is initially off-putting to Agnes, but through their conversations, she discovers how much more she wants from life.
While MacDonald shines, director Marc Turtletaub doesn’t seem to know exactly what s/he wants to say about the central topic. The metaphor between Agnes life and the passion she shares is an interesting, albeit obvious, one. However, to take it to its logical conclusion, the full picture of Agnes is never quite realized, which may leave audiences feeling dissatisfied. It’s possible that this the intention—Agnes’ life is depressing, and while (hopefully) many will see the marital inequality as barbaric, Puzzle may be a reminder that such dichotomies still (unfortunately) exist. But, the fact that Puzzle merely ends without resolution leaves the whole affair a bit confusing and adulterates the central message of female empowerment. Yes, Agnes begins making her own choices, but still within man-made confines. It’s progress, with caveats.
Puzzle is an excellent vehicle for MacDonald to show her range. Her portrayal of Agnes is thoughtful, complex, and even comedic at times. Unfortunately, the picture never quite comes into focus which leaves Puzzle incomplete.
Recommended if you enjoyed: Disobedience, Frances Ha, In a World…
Final Grade: B-
Photos Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classic