Anything can be a competition. We’ve got cooking shows on Reality TV that pit one chef against another. Singing competitions. Muscle growing showdowns. Magic the Gathering tournaments. Heck, even dog agility can be quantified and ranked. In this culture of competition, it’s no surprise the jigsaw puzzle solving has been turned into a competitive activity. What is puzzling, however, is the fact that a film was somehow based around it.
Puzzle is all about Agnes (Kelly Macdonald). The film begins with her readying a house for a birthday party. She cleans, bakes, and decorates everything all on her own. The loneliness within the crowd of partygoers sharpens when it’s revealed that the party is for Agnes, and she gets no assistance preparing for her party from her family. Agnes lives with her husband, Louie (David Denman), and two nearly adult sons. As a Catholic, suburban housewife, Agnes’ world appears small, but to her it’s full. She has her tight family, and her church group. What more is there?
When she receives a gift of a jigsaw puzzle at her party, something shifts. She sits down to solve it, and does so in one sitting. And then again. And again. Agnes then starts to time herself finishing the puzzle. She goes in search of any other puzzles that might be stored in the basement, along with the other relics of her sons’ childhoods. Her newly discovered interest in these puzzles seems less like an insatiable appetite than a salve to everyday anxieties.
In search of more jigsaw puzzles, Agnes travels into New York City for the morning, where her gift puzzle had been purchased. At the game shop, she sees a flyer from someone looking for a puzzle solving partner. In what seems quite out of character, Agnes reaches out to the mystery man and agrees to meet him. It turns out that this man, Robert (Irrfan Khan), has entered the nation’s jigsaw puzzle solving competition and needs a new partner. Considering the fact that Agnes has just now found her rebellious (but still reasonable) side, she both decides to join him and to keep her family in the dark about her new pastime.
Beyond the typical problems with having a man be a catalyst for any semblance of character development in a woman, Puzzle is actually a sweet, if small film. Agnes is very relatable, as are Louie and Robert. No one here is a bad person, though each of them does bad things at some point in the film. Puzzle never tries to be a bigger story than it is, and Agnes is never substituted as a representative for trapped women everywhere. The plot plods along slowly, but seeing the world though Agnes’s ambling pace is a welcome reprieve from the breakneck pace in our real lives.
Puzzle isn’t perfect and doesn’t feel fresh or necessary, but it’s a comfortable way to spend some time exploring the world through a character’s expanding view of it.