Puzzle (2018)

MPAA Rating: R // Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Release Year: 2018 // Director: Marc Turtletaub
Genre: Drama

If you’ve never heard of competitive puzzling, you’re in good company. If hearing “puzzling” used as a noun, well, puzzles you (I’m sorry, I chose not to resist), that’s alright. And if, now that you have heard of it, you’re skeptical whether competitive puzzling is a gripping enough subject to turn into a compelling movie, I don’t blame you.

Raised by her widowed father, Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) traded the sheltering safety of an immigrant community for the stability of a stifling marriage. Now the mother of two nearly-grown sons, she plans her own birthday parties (and asks her husband if he’s enjoying himself), serves on a committee at the local Catholic church, and puts dinner on the table every night for her mostly-ungrateful husband. Hers is a monotonous, thankless existence.

She opens her birthday presents alone, after the party, ignoring a new iPhone from her family in favor of a puzzle. Alone the following day, she completes the 1,000 piece puzzle in just a few hours—then takes it apart and starts again.

Maybe it’s because puzzles are certain, something that can be controlled, put together, dismantled, put in a box and on the shelf—or maybe it’s just because they’re pretty. Regardless, Agnes soon finds herself en route to New York City to buy more puzzles to satisfy her newfound hobby. In the store, she notices an advertisement for a puzzling partner. Using her new phone, she calls the number on the paper.

We get the impression this just might be the first time Agnes has pursued something she’s interested in.

It turns out that the person who placed the advertisement is Robert (Irrfan Khan), a lapsed inventor whose previous puzzling partner—and wife—recently left him without explanation. And while he tells Agnes he’s only looking for a new puzzling partner for a competition, it soon becomes clear he’s also interested in something more.

Thus begins Agnes’s new, secret life. Making up a story about an aunt who broke her foot and needs help, she makes the trip from Connecticut to New York City twice a week. And with each trip, her world gets a little bigger and she gets a little bolder.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to put the rest of this puzzle together. And in the end, it still feels like a piece is missing.

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