McDonald is a Scottish performer who made her 1996 debut as Ewan McGregor’s high school girlfriend in Trainspotting and was award-winning as a West Texas housewife in the Coen brothers’ No Country For Old Men.
Kelly Macdonald positively radiates hope and joy in this directorial debut from producer Marc Turtletaub (“Little Miss Sunshine,” “Loving”). Macdonald’s path of self-discovery, it’s filled with vivid details and lovely grace notes along the way.
A remake of 2009’s “Rompecabezas” from Argentinean writer/director Natalia Smirnoff, “Puzzle” is an intimate look at Agnes, whose entire existence has consisted of caring for others. Whether it was her late immigrant father, her mechanic husband, Louie (David Denman), their two grown sons (Bubba Weiler and Austin Abrams) or her close group of church friends.
The script by Oren Moverman and Polly Mann, Turtletaub starts with Agnes putting up balloons and decorations, serving snacks and cleaning up messes for her own birthday party. When it comes time to bring out the birthday cake, Agnes is the one to light the candles—and she’s also the one who blows them out.
One of the gifts she receives is a jigsaw puzzle, which she spontaneously sits down and quickly completes though it has 1,000 pieces., and she breezes through it with ease before breaking it all apart and starting all over again. She has found her passion. Another birthday gift she receives is an iPhone, which become the tools she uses to explore the outside world.
Agnes eventually works up the nerve to hop on a train to New York City, where she discovers an entire store full of complicated puzzles for her to explore and an unlikely friendship with a champion puzzler named Robert (Irrfan Khan) who seeks a partner for an upcoming competition. A wealthy inventor living alone Robert draws Agnes out of her shell. Macdonald and Khan have a chemistry that is undeniable.
Her husband, Louie, is a decent, hardworking man who happens to have traditional notions of family and gender roles. He’s grown accustomed to having dinner waiting for him on the table when he comes home from a long day’s work, because that’s the way it’s always been. He’s never cruel or abusive toward her. He loves her—but he also expects her to go to the grocery store to pick up the specific kind of cheese he likes.
Agnes’ sons are struggling to assert their own senses of identity and purpose as they grow up and prepare to leave the nest. As Agnes grows the missing pieces of her family are exposed.