Lately at work, my company has been leaving puzzles in the break area next to the coffee machines. Many people simply ignore the pile of pieces on the table, but there is a contingency of folks that are quietly drawn to it, seeing the hundreds if not thousands of wiggly-lined pieces as a pleasing challenge. What frustrates some may be soothing in a way to others, using a part of the brain not exercised in their everyday lives.
This may be what draws shy housewife Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) to the jigsaw puzzle she is given on her birthday by a friend.
Agnes’ life completely revolves around her mechanic husband and her teenage boys. Housework, shopping, and cooking meals keep her busy and her family happy. Strangely, she almost seems to be living in a pre-digital age, except for the fact that her family gives her an iPhone for her birthday. (She is weirded out by the idea of having a “robot” in her pocket.)
But this puzzle, this is something else, something new (to her). And she is good at it. She is so good, that she calls her friend and asks where to get such a thing (yes, Agnes does not get out much). Hooked, she even goes way out of her comfort zone, and replies to an ad for a competitive puzzle partner. (Who knew there was such a thing?) But this is all so out of the ordinary of her every day life, she keeps it from her husband, like an intimate secret.
Puzzle is a sweet story that slowly comes together piece by piece. It feels like a coming of age story for a middle-aged woman who is simply coming out of her shell. Another movie would have made the focus the development of the relationship with her rich, bored puzzle partner (the weird and charming Irrfan Khan). Or it could have been a feel-good “sports” story, with the climax being a puzzle competition. But instead, the movie is about Agnes herself, and is centered around the lovely performance by Kelly Macdonald. Her Agnes is a kindred spirit to all who get lost in their own head. She is not necessarily troubled, she is just a little odd. When an odd duck finds their passion, no matter in how unusual that passion is, it is a lovely thing to behold.