We open on Agnes lovingly setting up a party. She cooks, she decorates. When the time comes she greets the guests. And when a plate breaks she’s on her hands and knees clearing the glass so no one gets hurt. She asks her husband if he had fun. He says it was great. He says happy birthday. And that’s the Puzzle of Agnes, why does she give so much and expect so little?
Agnes, as we meet her, would probably say that she never considered anything different to be a possibility. Her life is to serve her family. She doesn’t dream of much and when she starts doing a jigsaw puzzle as a treat to herself, we understand it to be an extreme indulgence. One that she starts to go back to again and again. She pieces the massive image together fast and then faster. And soon enough, she needs a new challenge.
Where most of us would just pop onto Amazon, Agnes, a new and unenthusiastic iPhone owner calls the friend who gifted the puzzle to her. It’s from a shop in Manhattan, she learns. Crestfallen, she sets her desire aside as she has so many times before. But this time, it won’t stay buried. She invents a relative in need of care and makes the day journey to the shop. (And based on the reaction of her husband, the deception was necessary). This act of rebellion, of self-care, signals a change in Agnes, who quickly becomes enchanted by the world of competitive puzzling, and increasingly disenchanted with her life.
Kelly Macdonald gives a measured, sometimes painful performance that carries this film about acts of quiet revolution in a life of quiet desperation. Puzzle is sometimes frustrating and not wholly satisfying. But for the somewhat underdeveloped sense it finishes on, it’s a wildly compelling little character study. And if this is the start of Kelly Macdonald in more starring vehicles, it’s a promising one at that.
Puzzle was purchased by Sony Pictures Classics for $5 million dollars. It will open in limited release on July 13, 2018.