Movie Reviews: Puzzle (2018)

It can be tough to make your indie movie stand out from the pack, but a simple way is to land on a nice and simple hook based on a niche that you never knew existed.  It goes doubly true if this niche has a competition you can build up to and feature a whole bunch of incredulous questions about it being a real thing.  This time out, the filmmakers landed on the original concept of competitive jigsaw puzzle solving although since this is based on an Argentinian film also called Puzzle (or Rompecabezas), I guess it isn’t even that original.

I’ll give them credit though since that premise is what drew me to the film.  Well cast, samey looking indie dramas are hard to get excited about, but jigsaw puzzles?  I love doing puzzle.  I have no clue what the movie keeps banging on about in terms of puzzles being for children.  In my family, they were always were a family activity growing up (and after) though I would do plenty by myself too.  If anything, the stereotype always seemed to be it was a hobby for grandmothers to waste away their time with. They just use the “for children” conceit to help manufacture some lazy drama.   But it’s the way I related to the film that was the film’s greatest strength.

Kelly Macdonald is Agnes, an unsatisfied Catholic, church-going housewife, the kind who spends her own birthday party catering on others and who just feels like she is missing something.  Receiving (among other things) a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle, she tries it out on a whim and finds she has an inherent knack for it.  Like myself, her brain just moves at a million miles a minute and the focus on the simple, menial tasks (plus the rush when it is finished) gives her satisfaction she had been missing in her life of service.  The film truly does capture the appeal of it and how someone like her would be constantly crawling out of their skin in social situations because they are always feeling awkward and overthinking things.  Granted, it does this all this by telling rather than showing, but relatability counts for a lot.

After exhausting the puzzle she has, redoing it over and over again to improve her time (something I never did, though I did have a world puzzle I was able to put together upside down), she heads into New York City to buy another puzzle since… I don’t know.  Frankly it’s a giant, idiotic contrivance.  Nominally, it is because that is where the puzzle was purchased, but there has to be a place closer to her that sells them.  I get she lives in the 20th century and her new iPhone alone is a bizarre concept, but even beyond Amazon, there are plenty of bookstores and the like that sell them.

At the puzzle store, she notices an ad looking for puzzle partner which hooks her up with a rich inventor played by Irrfan Khan whose last partner left him.  He’s far more talkative and worldlier (in that he watches the news a lot), but is supposedly struggling with the weight of having invented only one thing (despite a magazine in the back indicating that his invention was the best of 2016 or 2017 so like many things about his supposed arc it rings false).  Together they hit it off and twice a week they meet up to practice and train for the national puzzle championship all while she lies to her husband (David Denman) and kids.

It’s all pretty stock plot wise with Macdonald slowly rebuilding against Denman’s and his equally archaic sense of manhood which makes this feel like a film lost in time.  They even get a second sense of relatability in one of the sons being someone who doesn’t think he is good at anything finding he can cook (even if this is revealed in a moment that was almost Monty Python worthy).  The script is peppered with amusing moments and Macdonald is compelling throughout even as the film falls deeper into predictability.  It’s not a great film, but it’s a charming enough way to pass two hours.  Plus, it has Liv Hewson (Santa Clarita Diet) in a supporting role and I’m always in favor of anything that gives them work and attention.