Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald has come a long way from playing the lover to Ewan McGregor’s Renton in Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting. With about 50 acting credits to her name, she often plays the role of the mother or wife. While everyone can recognize her voice as Merida in PIXAR’s Brave, her impressive resume includes Gosford Park, Finding Neverland, Nanny McPhee, the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men, and the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.
In Puzzle, in which it premiered at Sundance in January, the charming actress is back playing the role of the mother and wife. This time, she takes center stage! Under the direction of Marc Turtletaub (producer of Little Miss Sunshine and Loving) and written by Oren Moverman (whose screenplay for Love and Mercy is one of the best of this decade), this delightful little film will definitely earn attention from those who want to take a breather from those blockbusters.
A remake of Rompecabezas, the 2010 film from Argentina, Macdonald plays Agnes, a housewife living in the Connecticut suburbs with her selfish husband Louie (David Denman) and two teenage sons–Gabe (Austin Abrams, Paper Towns and Brad’s Status) and Ziggy (Bubba Weiler)–who are unsure about their futures. Every day, she works around the house. In the opening scene, she sets up her own birthday party–from putting up decorations to baking her own cake). She mysteriously gets a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle as one of her gifts. One day, alone, she decides to work on the puzzle. Normally, it would take days to finish a 1,000-piece puzzle. For Agnes, she finishes it in a matter of hours.
After learning about a puzzle store in New York City, she heads on the train to the big city to buy more jigsaw puzzles. There, she sees an ad from the wealthy Robert (Irrfan Khan, Life of Pi), who’s looking for a puzzling partner for an upcoming tournament in Atlantic City. When these two strangers meet for the first time, Robert is impressed by Agnes’ given talent. The more they learn about one another, they begin to place the pieces to their lives.
Of course, the jigsaw puzzles play out as a recurring metaphor for self-discovery. Turtletaub and Moverman both put it together beautifully. This is certainly Macdonald’s finest moment. She plays the mother who loves her family, but is clearly living in the past. She wants to escape her rough lifestyle to pursue her dream in solving jigsaw puzzles. When she meets Robert, they both realize they have more in common than they would expect. For Robert (wondrously played by Khan), an immigrant from India who becomes a world-class inventor, he is so excited to meet Agnes. We see the two evolve into something special. Agnes’ independence and Robert’s warm, subtle humor are what makes Puzzle shine. As Robert says, in one scene, “When you finish a puzzle, you know you have made all the right choices.”
The movie is far from perfect. While it drags at times, Denman’s Louie is viewed more as a father prototype, who works at a local car garage and loves to go fishing. Some viewers might be disappointed due to the lack of montages of Agnes and Robert placing the puzzle pieces together. Puzzle is a subtle, feel-good movie showcasing a slice of life. It’s nothing entirely special and it doesn’t end summer with a bang, but I’m glad I went to see this.