Puzzle (3 stars)


EIFF 2018: Kelly Macdonald is typically divine in a wonderfully subtle, if rather slight domestic drama

A housewife throws her life into an exhilarating muddle when she picks up the pieces of a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. What unfolds is the most unassuming of domestic dramas, sprinkled with just a hint of eccentricity, that nevertheless comes from a truthful, sometimes painfully honest place.

Directed by Marc Turtletaub (best known for producing a raft of indie favourites – from Loving and Safety Not Guaranteed to Little Miss Sunshine) with a screenplay by Oren Moverman and Polly Mann, it's based on Natalia Smirnoff's 2010 Argentinean film. It follows Kelly Macdonald's Agnes, a woman whose daily routine revolves around tending to her mechanic husband Louie (David Denman) and two fully grown sons Gabe and Ziggy (Austin Abrams and Bubba Weiler).

Starved of stimulation, Agnes takes pleasure in the small things – a glass of wine in her own company after a party, a slice of cake sat gazing at the sky. She can anticipate her life's every move – the precise moment the alarm will go off, Louie's first words on hearing it. What initially feels like contentment starts to seem tedious and oppressive; Agnes's sheltered, culturally clueless and technophobic existence is less of a sanctuary from a mad world and more like a prison, while her apparently adoring husband controls her under the guise of caring.

Discovering a flair for jigsaw puzzles after cracking open a birthday gift inspires Agnes to head to New York on a quest for more kicks, a trip that ultimately leads her into the world of competitive puzzling. Tentatively, she forms a partnership with fellow puzzler Robert (Irrfan Khan), a quirky, bone-idle inventor dining off a single, highly lucrative success. It's an apparently innocent alliance that becomes a thrilling then burdensome secret.

Puzzle is a humble addition to the canon of films looking at gender inequality that at every turn plumps for subtlety; the possibility of a dalliance with Robert and rising tensions with Louie fail to produce fireworks and it avoids revelling in Agnes's puzzling success. The approach can be refreshing, endearing even, and that most gentle of performers Macdonald is typically divine, but the film rarely digs deep as it shows how such a modest pursuit can help bring someone back to life. It's a charming, if somewhat slight look at learning to love and prioritise yourself.

Screening as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2018. General release TBC.


  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 43min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Marc Turtletaub
  • Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman, Bubba Weiler, Austin Abrams, Liv Hewson

Agnes (Macdonald) is a housewife whose life revolves around routine, until she discovers a flair for solving jigsaw puzzles. Macdonald is divine as ever, but the film rarely digs deep into how such a modest pursuit can bring someone back to live. Charming but slight.