Review by Jacquelin Hipes
Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) isn’t unloved. It’s just that, for as long as they can remember, her family has been unfailingly cared for by her. Her husband Louie’s (David Denman) complacency has long since lapsed into obliviousness. That Agnes might aspire to anything more stimulating than errands, housekeeping, and the small social sphere of their neighborhood simply never crosses his mind. Yet when a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle reawakens her latent talent for math and patterns—until now only exercised on broken plates and the invoices of Louie’s auto repair shop—Agnes goes on a clandestine day trip into New York City to acquire a couple more.
The massive puzzle meant to provide days of entertainment barely lasted an afternoon in her hands, you see.
Taped next to the register at the specialty shop is an advertisement of a puzzler seeking a “serious partner.” Agnes responds to it. The bereft competitor Robert (Irrfan Khan) lost his longtime partner when they divorced. A wealthy and idle man, Robert stumbled into one profitable patent years ago and hasn’t produced anything new yet. He fills his days with competitive puzzle-solving and lying in bed, tracking the various disasters that crop up all over the world. Well-traveled and well-educated, his life took a path entirely counter to the domestic bubble Agnes settled into early.
As the pair prepares for a national competition, Agnes starts neglecting her long-standing routine at home. She lies about where she goes during the day, forgets groceries and cooking, misses out on church social events. The more time she spends with Robert the more disillusioned she becomes with Louie, their life, and the once-inevitable future. And the closer she comes to falling in love.
Macdonald is in top form here. By turns patient, clever, and deeply confused, she channels the conflict of a woman who only recently even thought to feel unhappy over her circumstances, much less bitter. As the dopey and often clueless husband, Denman elicited more than his share of laughs from the women in the audience. Those familiar with Khan purely through his appearance in Jurassic World will be pleasantly surprised. His Robert serves as a foil to Agnes, as hemmed in by aimlessness as she is by the constant demands of her family.
Puzzle may look in on some heavy topics but it never becomes too morose. Directed with restraint by Marc Turtletaub, it was a warm and welcome opening to this year’s Dallas International Film Festival.