In his debut feature as a director, producer Marc Turtletaub (Away We Go, Little Miss Sunshine, Loving) offers a slow-paced, charming and hugely engaging story about a downtrodden housewife who finds a new lease of life when she discovers that she has a talent for completing jigsaw puzzles with greater ease than most. Adapted from Natalia Smirnoff’s much-loved 2009 Argentinian movie of the same name, and from a script by Oren Moverman (I’m Not There, Rampart), Puzzle offers a rare starring role for British actress Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting, Finding Neverland, Swallows and Amazons) who is as fantastic here as anyone who has seen her turn in the critically acclaimed HBO series Boardwalk Empire, would have hoped.
Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) has never been anything but a docile suburban housewife from the moment she married mechanic Louie (David Denman). For years, the mother of two teenage boys spent every waking hour at the beck and call of her brood and their loving, yet ungrateful, father. The daughter of Catholic Hungarian immigrants, Agnes had all her decisions made for her by the men in her life since childhood, but her life is soon thrown into turmoil when she discovers that she has a rare ability for completing jigsaw puzzles in a record time. Armed with this knowledge, Agnes soon finds herself entering a national puzzle competition with the enigmatic Robert (Irrfan Khan). The two decide to meet twice a week to work on their competing strategy in the hope of winning the big prize, but their initial awkward encounter soon leads to something more.
Turtletaub offers a low-key and whimsical narrative which is the perfect match for Macdonald’s beautifully understated and nuanced performance as a woman attempting to make sense of a life she no longer recognises. Whilst Moverman’s screenplay might lack originality in parts, the film benefits greatly from its original source material and stays fairly close to Smirnoff’s own vision. While Agnes is much younger than her Argentinian counterpart, Macdonald remains impressive in her delivery and is more than convincing in a role which is the perfect fit for her slight and self-effacing demeanour.
Elsewhere, David Denman commendably embodies the schlubbiness of Louie’s character, while Irrfan Khan as Robert comes off unintentionally as slightly too arrogant to be completely likeable. Whilst this might have been the desired effect from Turtletaub and screenwriter Moverman, the film could still have benefited from injecting a little more charm and nuance into an otherwise inspired character.
Overall, Puzzle delivers on its promise of romance and adventure without ever overstaying its welcome and is neatly tied ups in the end with an ending which is sure to delight it audiences. A charming take on a much-loved film which manages to stay true to the original throughout.
Puzzle is part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival programme.