Led by Kelly Macdonald (No Country for Old Men) and Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi), two of the most likable actors in modern cinema, Puzzle is likewise agreeable though more complex than a basic frustrated suburban housewife's journey of self-discovery.
From the opening scenes of her birthday party where she’s more host than honoree, Macdonald is instantly sympathetic as stay-at-home mom Agnes. Devoted to yet largely unappreciated by her husband Louie (David Denman, NBC’s The Office) and two sons, she cycles through her weekly domestic and church tasks with minimal joy, so when she quickly completes a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle birthday present and seeks out further tabletop thrills, it’s a pleasure to cheer on her pursuit of happiness.
The newfound interest takes her to an apparently financially solvent New York City puzzle shop, through which she responds to a request for a puzzle partner and meets quirky inventor Robert (Khan). As the two bond over their shared passion and practice for a national doubles competition, noted indie producer Marc Turtletaub (Little Miss Sunshine; Away We Go) — directing only his second feature-length film — confidently conveys the simple joys of the analog recreational activity.
Co-written by dramatic master Oren Moverman (The Dinner: Love & Mercy) with more humor than his usual fare, the adaptation of the Argentinian film Rompecabezas finds Agnes realistically out of her depth in processing her newfound glee. Tragically employing deception in explaining her whereabouts to her family, the delayed truth brings familiar repercussions, but with the humane, relatable character and narrative groundwork laid from the start, the results are honest and at times emotionally powerful.
Grade: B-plus. Rated R. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)