Jigsaw relationship

  • by David Lamble
  • Wednesday August 1, 2018
Share this Post:

The new social comedy "Puzzle" begins with might be dubbed "scenes from the life of a female doormat." Our heroine, Agnes, is selflessly laboring away for the men in her life. As played by the veteran Scottish-born actress Kelly Macdonald, Agnes borders on a 1950s-style "happy homemaker," a woman so corseted by promises to hubby and the Catholic Church that she almost doesn't exist as a soul with her own special destiny.

That all changes one day when Agnes is gifted one of those enormous jigsaw puzzles that is designed to wile away rainy weekends and help overcome personal funks. Agnes is doubly surprised: one, that she enjoys the challenge, and even more, that she's finally good at something that has nothing to do with housework or her bullying hubby Louie (David Denman) or her demanding teen sons Gabe (Austin Abrams) and Ziggy (Bubba Weiler).

The hardest leap to accept with "Puzzle" is the personal ad that brings Agnes to the doorstop of a champion and temporarily mentally depressed puzzle-solver, the Indian-born Robert (Irrfan Khan). If you can't buy this odd-couple match, the movie crumbles and is essentially a 102-minute waste of time.

Adapted by Israeli-born heavyweight screenwriter Oren Moverman (who gave us the military death-notification buddy drama "The Messenger" and "Love and Mercy," backstory to Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson's mental challenges) from Natalia Smirnoff's Argentinian original "Rompecabezas," this version can seem to strain for some "feel good" space that will win accolades from the potent "Me Too" movement. But given the insanely long lead times for fiction films, "Puzzle" should be received as a timely gift from the always-fickle cinema gods.

Robert is presented as a wealthy inventor for whom the world of competitive puzzle-solving fills a gap others fill with marathon cable-TV binges, gourmet cooking classes or online gambling. Some will approach a film rated R for language with the hopes that its sexual game will titillate. Here the leads overcome the unlikely premise of their meeting with a workman sexual chemistry, but no more. The real reason for catching "Puzzle" (opening Friday at Embarcadero Cinemas in SF, Aug. 10 in Berkeley, Pleasant Hill and San Rafael) is the old-fashioned pleasure of experiencing a meeting of two unusual minds.

As their relationship progresses at various puzzle meets, Robert confides to Agnes what little in the way of philosophy "Puzzle" offers. "Life is messy, there's no way to control anything. When you complete a puzzle, you know you've made all the right choices."