Puzzle (2018) ☆☆☆(3/4): Reaching out through puzzle

“Puzzle” is a little likable movie about an accidental change coming into its heroine’s plain domestic life. While she has been quite content with her rather isolated daily life, something draws her attention one day, and that leads to her discovery of a certain talent inside her. As quietly observing how she slowly comes out of her cocoon through her discovered talent, the movie gives us a series of intimate moments to enjoy, and we are touched as sensing how much she is changed around the end of her story.

Kelly Macdonald, a dependable British actress who appeared in a number of notable films such as “Trainspotting” (1996), “Gosford Park” (2001), and “No Country for Old Men” (2007), plays Agnes, an ordinary housewife living in a neighborhood area located outside New York City with her husband Louie (David Denman) and their two sons for many years. During the opening scene, we watch her busily serving her family and guests during her birthday party held at her house, and we later see more of how she has been accustomed to taking care of every domestic work in her house. Once she wakes up in the next morning, she prepares breakfast for her family, and then she is going to spend the rest of the day on other routine domestic works as usual until her husband and their two sons return around the evening.

When she happens to have some free time in the afternoon, Agnes unwraps several birthday gifts of hers, and one of them turns out to be a 1000-piece puzzle set. Although it looks challenging at first, she decides to try to have a fun with this puzzle set, and, to her surprise, she assembles all the puzzle pieces correctly within a few hours. As spending more time with this puzzle set and some other ones in the house, she becomes more enthusiastic about this newfound hobby of hers, and that eventually leads her a puzzle shop located in the middle of New York City.

While buying a couple of puzzle sets at that shop, Agnes notices a small advertisement looking for a partner for an upcoming puzzle competition. Naturally becoming curious about that advertisement, she sends a text to the person who put a phone number on that advertisement, and that is how she comes to encounter Robert (Irrfan Khan), an affluent Indian inventor who has lived alone in his posh residence located somewhere in Manhattan since his recent divorce (his ex-wife was his previous puzzle partner, by the way). While their first meeting is pretty awkward to say the least, they soon come to click well with each other as Robert is quite impressed by Agnes’ exceptional ability, and he suggests that they should train together twice a week for the puzzle competition.

Agnes is certainly happy to have someone with whom she can share her enthusiasm on puzzle, but she does not tell her family anything about that. As she spends more time with Robert, she feels more confident than ever while also becoming more aware of how she has been rather unhappy for many years, and this change of hers is soon noticed by her husband, who is understandably quite baffled while not knowing what to do about it.

It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Agnes and Robert come to have a certain mutual feeling between them, but the adapted screenplay by Oren Moverman and Polly Mann, which is based on Natalia Smirnoff’s novel “Rompecabezas” wisely does not overplay that, and the movie sensitively depicts what is gradually accumulated between Agnes and Robert during their puzzle training sessions. As they show more of themselves to each other, they cannot help but become drawn more to each other, and there eventually comes a moment when they come to go further than they expected from their supposedly platonic relationship.

In the meantime, the movie spends a considerable amount of time on what is going on between Agnes and her family. While there is a financial matter involved with a garage run by her husband, she and her husband come to conflict over the future of their sons, and that makes their relationship more strained before. As her domestic situation becomes messier, Agnes becomes more occupied with her puzzle sets, and we are not very surprised when her husband directly shows his anger and frustration to her at one point. He is not a bad husband at all, but he simply cannot understand what is happening in their relationship, and their situation becomes worse when there comes a certain inevitable moment between them.

Director Marc Turtletaub, who has mainly been known as the producer of several acclaimed films including “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) and “Loving” (2016), maintains well the calm, sensitive mood of the film even when the story becomes a bit more melodramatic, and he draws engaging performances from his main cast members. While Kelly Macdonald is especially wonderful when she subtly conveys to us her character’s burgeoning enthusiasm on puzzle, Irrfan Khan brings some gravitas to his scenes with Macdonald, and David Denman is also fine as another crucial part of the movie.

Although I wish it could show more of those puzzle sets, “Puzzle” is still a good movie worthwhile to watch for its thoughtful storytelling and solid performances, and it is a shame that it did not get much attention when it was released in US a few months ago. It is too good to be overlooked in my trivial opinion, and I think you should give it a chance someday.

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