Starring Kelly Macdonald. Rated PG
This unusually slack piece of storytelling depicts a drab woman’s liberation through, ahem, jigsaw puzzles. It was lifted directly from a 2009 Argentine film (from the intoxicatingly named Natalia Smirnoff), itself resembling France’s Queen to Play, which centred on chess as an escape for a middle-aged chambermaid.
Sophomore director Marc Turtletaub is best-known for producing inexpensive indie items like Little Miss Sunshine. But viewers will miss a little sunshine in this claustrophobic, darkly lit tale of Agnes, a Connecticut woman from a Hungarian Catholic family. Scotland’s Kelly Macdonald often seems illuminated from within, but we start to worry about her Agnes upon noting that she’s married to Pam’s lumpish fiancé from The Office, David Denman.
Still in their gloomy suburban home are two layabout grown sons (Austin Abrams and Bubba Weiler), for whom she cooks and cleans when she’s not doing her husband’s car-repair books, organizing church events, or—as seen at the start—baking a cake for her own birthday party. Okay, we get it. But Turtletaub lays on dozens more scenes detailing just how old-convent-school Agnes’s life is. In fact, what year is this? Forty-something Dad is worried that his oldest boy going to culinary school will make him “unmanly”.
One good thing coming out of that party is a 500-piece map of the world, ahem, that beginner Agnes puts together at lightning speed. She’s hooked and, on a rare trip into Manhattan to pick up some more puzzles, also hooks up with a conveniently rich guy wanting a partner for competitive jigsawing. Who knew? The movie’s other main lure is the casting of Bollywood legend Irrfan Khan (Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi), presumably called Robert here because he was Roberto in the original film.
Robert is irresistibly drawn to the drab, unworldly Agnes; perhaps he dimly recalls her as the mouthy chick from Trainspotting. No matter: all characters here are only collections of selfish personality traits for Agnes to push against. The script, by newcomer Polly Mann and veteran Oren Moverman (The Messenger, Love & Mercy), is stunningly banal. Even more surprising is the director’s lack of interest in making the jigsaw metaphor a jumping-off point for deeper thoughts or creative visuals. The biggest head-scratcher in this Puzzle is why it got made.