Yes! I’ve been looking forward to this! Oh no, it’s based on anything that I’m familiar with. I just think I’m a Kelly Macdonald fanboy. Fun fact, though. This movie is actually a remake of a 2010 Argentinian film called ROMPECABEZAS, which translates to “Puzzle.” Apparently, it wasn’t all that bad. Nothing great, but ultimately a fine enough movie.
The story looks like it’s about a wife and mom who feels like she’s underappreciated and discovers an add for a puzzle partner. Given that she likes puzzles, she takes this guy up on his offer and the two of them strike up a friendship as she discovers a new sense of self, despite some resistance from her husband.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Kelly Macdonald (GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN , and upcoming films RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET  and HOLMES AND WATSON ) and Irrfan Khan (INFERNO , JURASSIC WORLD , and the upcoming THE WICKED PATH ). In support, we have Liv Hewson (BEFORE I FALL ), David Denman (LOGAN LUCKY , 13 HOURS , and THE GIFT ), Bubba Weiler (stuff I’ve not seen or heard of), and Austin Abrams (BRAD’S STATUS  and PAPER TOWNS ).
Now for the crew. Directing, we have Marc Turtletaub, known for stuff I’ve not seen or heard of. Co-writing the screenplay are Oren Moverman (THE DINNER  and LOVE & MERCY ) and making a screenwriting debut is Polly Mann. Ech… that DINNER credit makes me wary, but that LOVE & MERCY credit raises my hopes. One was on my bottom ten list of 2017, the other was in my top 10 of 2015. I have no idea where this will land now. Composing the score is Dustin O’Halloran, known for LION (2016), and the upcoming THE HATE U GIVE (2018). The cinematographer is Chris Norr, known for stuff I’ve not seen or heard of. Finally, the editor is Catherine Haight, known for stuff I’ve not seen or heard of.
Overall, I think this might be alright. Perhaps I’m overhyping myself, but I can’t help it.
This is my honest opinion of: PUZZLE
Agnes (Kelly MacDonald) is a loving mother and wife to her family. However, she feels unappreciated for her efforts around the house and soon picks up the hobby of puzzles. One trip to New York later and Agnes discovers an ad for a puzzle champion, named Robert (Irrfan Khan), looking for a partner for an upcoming competition that she feels she can do well in. However, the more that these two work together, the more Agnes discovers a passion that she has not felt from her family, causing a rift in her marriage with her husband Louie (David Denman).
This was a really good movie.
The only real flaw that I’m really going to comment on, and it’s pretty nitpicky, Macdonald’s accent slips and it’s pretty obvious. While this might make or break people, being too distracting and taking people out of the moment, her performance is damn near flawless if you can get past it like I did.
That’s it. Moving on to the rest of the movie.
This is that kind of movie that you’d watch and will make you feel like an asshole for not doing a little bit of cooking in the house, or doing something special for your wife or mom. Never mind the heartbreak of how taken for granted she is in her own home, but there’s a certain level of comedy that comes with the repetition of Agnes’ life. Counting down to when the alarm will go off, knowing exactly what her boys will say in defense, it’s pretty funny to see how so integrated into that routine she’s in.
On the opposite side of that scale, Robert is a fun character. Khan is absolutely charming as all hell. He’s funny, wise, and knows that he’s full of shit most of the time and loves it. One of my favorite lines is when Agnes exclaims that she never heard of puzzle competitions, then Robert remarks, “Don’t tell anyone, or they’ll make a run of the place.” Whole auditorium got a good laugh from that. But he’s not without compassion and understanding. He feels for her personal struggles, but seems to know better than to push her to talk about subjects that aren’t necessarily his business, unless she asks him.
I think my favorite of the supporting cast is the oldest son, Ziggy (Bubba Weiler), who seems to be the most doting toward his mother. Like, everyone in the family seems to just expect her to have things done by the numbers, but Ziggy seems to be the one person who knows what’s behind the veil of ignorance. And as soon as Agnes finds something that makes her happy, he’s inspired to follow suit by opening up to her saying that he wants to go to culinary school rather than work with his dad in the auto shop. But he knows that his father won’t support him, which isn’t unfounded since he says right to his face that “it’s not a man’s job,” which is a horrendously dumb thing to say as Agnes rightfully corrects him by saying most of the top chefs in the world are men. My favorite scene with Ziggy and Agnes is when she comes outside to sit with him while he smokes, and she attempts to smoke her first cigarette, ending how most first-time smokers do, and when she admits that it’s her first to him, he immediately takes the cigarette out of her hands and puts it out. That’s a good son right there and it’s an incredibly sweet and caring moment.
I also want to give praise to how Louie was written. I feel like in less capable hands, Louie would have been downright despicable and completely unlikable with no redeeming value to him. However, while I do think there’s something utterly wrong with a marriage where there’s a clear head of the household rather than an equal partnership between spouses, especially in this day and age, Louie isn’t that bad of guy. At least, he isn’t drowning kittens in vats of acid for funsies. He’s wholly ungrateful for how Agnes treats him and how good she is to him, and it’s so ingrained his mind of what she does that he expects it day after day. He’s clearly a man who is defined by his marriage and would likely revert to dragging his knuckles and carrying a club were it not for how much she uplifts him. With that said, he does have a charm about him. He is a loving husband and occasionally listens to what she has to say around the house. I don’t agree with him as a man, but I can understand that he’s just a product of his raising and environment. Not that it excuses much of his actions, but you can see where it comes from.
I think my favorite aspect about this movie is that it’s more of an analysis of what drives a person to cheat on their significant other. At least, that’s what I took away. Agnes is so underappreciated for what she does and likely feels more like a safety net for a husband who would be an absolute wreck were it not for her. He’s also clearly the alpha of the family and his word is law. He makes all of the big decisions himself without including his wife, he’s something of a subtle bully, using Agnes’ timidity against her. And she knows it. But because she’s a Catholic woman and feels compelled to be a good wife, she doesn’t really retaliate or defend herself. It sort of makes it ironic when Louie tells her, “People step all over you, and you let ’em.” Even when Agnes starts to develop those sexual feelings, she’s not acting on them right away, and it does feel like a slow build-up to that eventual transgression, but in a good way.
But one of the more subtle elements that I appreciated is that it never really makes that claim that the cheating was a result of falling in love with another man. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a movie where it ended with cheater not being with the other person. I mean, yes, both of these characters say “I love you” at different points in the movie, but I don’t think Agnes means it. I think she’s so caught up in the fire of the passion that she’s just acting on her base instincts. Didn’t one of her sons claim that she feels “awake” or something like that? It’s more of the emotional response to feeling appreciated and being included in something. I might believe that Robert believes that he loves Agnes, but not the other way around. They’ve not known each other long enough to know that. Still, I enjoy that the emotions are up for debate as to their honesty.
Overall, I kind of adore this movie. It’s a small film, but it doesn’t shy away from some big themes. Everyone delivers a great performance, especially from the leads. I really wish I saw Macdonald in more stuff and this movie proves that she’s one of the most underrated actors working. Though maybe she should stay away from roles that require her to use an American accent. As a recommendation, I say this is a must-see. It’s kind of an indie film, so it may be a bit challenging to find in your local cinemas, but if you see it, I say go for it. By the end of this movie, you know it made all the right choices.
My honest rating for PUZZLE: 5/5
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